UNC suspends four players from season opener
North Carolina starting cornerbacks Des Lawrence and Brian Walker and reserve defensive backs M.J. Stewart and Donnie Miles will all serve one-game suspensions during the season opener against Liberty due to a “violation of team policy,” coach Larry Fedora said Wednesday.
The suspensions came one day after the school announced it was investigating what Yahoo Sports called a “training camp hazing incident” at the team’s hotel that escalated into a “group assault” on Jackson Boyer, a walk-on wide receiver from Chapel Hill.
Fedora declined to specify the nature of the players’ violation, though he said it occurred early in training camp. He announced the punishments after the team’s practice after initially declining to comment on the investigation during a teleconference earlier in the day.
“We were getting to a point where I had enough information where I could make that decision,” Fedora said.
Fedora said he did not know the status of the school’s investigation, which is being run by the Office of Student Affairs, though he didn’t expect any more players to be suspended.
Lawrence and Walker, both sophomores, were listed as the starting cornerbacks on a depth chart released Monday, while Stewart, a true freshman, was the primary backup. Miles, a redshirt freshman, is the backup behind Malik Simmons at the ram position.
The alleged altercation took place at Aloft Chapel Hill. Boyer has continued to practice with the team, and a Chapel Hill police spokesman said that there is no record of police being called to the hotel to investigate an incident involving the football team. Kimber Boyer, Jackson’s mother, did not return a cell phone call seeking comment.
Previously-scheduled availability with defensive players and assistant coaches after practice on Wednesday was cancelled.
The school’s policy states that “UNC expressly prohibits hazing or any activity that puts a student's physical, emotional or psychological health and safety at risk,” though it doesn’t specify any punishments for violators.
Boyer (6-3, 195) joined the Tar Heels as a walk-on in 2013. At East Chapel Hill High, he was a two-time all-conference receiver, a three-time all-conference lacrosse player and finished fifth in a state diving meet.
The 23rd-ranked Tar Heels start their season Saturday against Liberty at Kenan Stadium (6 p.m., ESPN3.com), where they hope to continue the positive momentum from last season’s 6-1 finish.
The allegation is the latest in a series of high-profile off-field incidents involving the program.
Fedora was brought in after an NCAA investigation found that football players and an assistant coach received impermissible cash and gifts from sports agents and that other players committed academic fraud. That led to the firing of then-coach Butch Davis, the resignation of athletic director Dick Baddour and penalties that included a postseason ban in 2012.
In June, the NCAA announced that it was reopening its investigation into academic improprieties at UNC. The probe is believed to center around the African and Afro-American Studies Department, in which athletes comprised roughly half of the students enrolled in the hundreds of suspicious courses that did not meet.
“I think our student-athletes do a great job,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “We have 800 who participate in intercollegiate athletics, and from time to time, we all make mistakes. When we do, we hold each other accountable.”