LOCUST, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — UNC Charlotte takes the field against East Carolina for the first time as American Athletic Conference rivals on Saturday, Oct. 21.

The cross-state college football matchup gives students on both sides a unique chance to come together outside the lines.

Students on both sides have been committed to the ground game through “Run the Ball,” which supports mental health education and suicide prevention. They’re carrying the game ball to the ECU campus, a long road to gameday winding through Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Stanly counties just to start.

UNC Charlotte graduate assistant Trae Florence literally took the ball and ran with it.

So the running conditions are really nice,” Florence told Queen City News. “We have this nice breeze in October. It’s good weather.”

Keeping the ball moving

College officials are showing their support as well, on the run.

“We’re running the ball to make sure that we recognize a special place for college students in mental health and overall well-being,” said Sujit Chemburkar, UNC Charlotte’s interim associate vice chancellor for health and well-being.

During “Run the Ball,” the university collects donations online for students facing mental health struggles.

Florence was among the 49ers who toted the game ball. Along the way, Chemburkar and UNC Charlotte Police joined the group to ensure safety.

UNC Charlotte and ECU split the 250-mile journey. Roughly, that’s the length of some 4,400 football fields. The run wraps up on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, just in time for the game.

“The game football there in his hands across the state, and we’ll hand it off to our ECU colleagues,” Chemburkar explained behind the wheel of a van tailing the runners.

Tuesday in the Sandhills community of Lemon Springs, the Pirates took possession of the football in memory of Maxwell Tyeryar. He joined the Army National Guard in 2016 and helped found the Sigma Pi fraternity at ECU.

His dad, Wes, says the family was devastated and blindsided when his son committed suicide in January 2022. Tyeryar was 25.

“We did not see that struggle,” Wes Tyeryar said. “That’s no excuse, but (we) did not see that. And I felt the need to tell Max’s story,”

Veteran support key to run

ECU’s leg of “Run the Ball” is a Maxwell for Life Foundation fundraiser, which provides scholarships and support to veterans. 

Wes Tyeryar founded the nonprofit as a tribute to his son. He urges all of us to check in on loved ones more often.

“[Max] hid his pain, and he did not let us know the struggle he was in,” he said. “He did not want to be a burden in many ways.”

“Run the Ball” participants signed a football that will go to Wes Tyeryar. The mission is meaningful to Florence, who serves in the Air Force.

“The balance of being a veteran and being a full-time student is definitely a challenge,” Florence said. “So it’s nice to get that awareness spread out through campus.”

UNC Charlotte’s support of this run is part of its commitment to supporting community mental health.

“Most college students coming in at this point will have some sort of need for mental health support,” Chemburkar said. “I think we want to keep the conversation elevated and make sure that we’re providing good resources.”

The in-state rivalry has inspired in-state comradery. Florence planned to run 1.75 miles and pushed himself in honor of a fellow vet.

“As I was running and keeping Maxwell and the cause in hand, I ended up running more than that,” Florence said.

As they ran the route, they put aside their college football rooting interests.

Over the past week, they raised awareness and had a ball doing it.