Ann Arbor – Michigan fans turned their eyes toward early-enrollee receiver Tarik Black during the spring game in April, but earning some of the spotlight is not going to change how the freshman approaches his day-to-day preparations.
Black, a 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver out of Cheshire (Conn.) Academy, started taking classes early so that he could participate in spring practice along with Donovan Peoples-Jones, the nation’s top-ranked receiver out of Detroit Cass Tech. Black had four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
“A lot of people took notice,” Black said last Saturday after the quarterbacks camp at Michigan. “I think I might have been slept on a little bit. But I’m just going to continue to work hard and play football and do it how I know how to do it.”
Being “slept on” has served as a daily reminder to work. And work even more.
“I’ve always kind of had a chip on my shoulder,” Black said. “Coming from Connecticut, our athletes don’t get as much respect as kids from down south or out west. People give more respect to guys who I guess play better competition (but) I don’t really believe that.
“I always feel motivated by that. That’s part of the reason why I work so hard.”
Black and Peoples-Jones are roommates.
“We’re real close,” Black said. “We’re continuing to push each other and make each other better. Really working hard together. We do pretty much everything together.”
But Black said the two don’t think of themselves as the next great receiver tandem at Michigan. In fact, they don’t separate themselves from the group that will replace Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Jake Butt, the Wolverines’ top receivers last season.
“I think our main mindset is to work together as a collective group,” he said. “It’s not so much just me and him. In order for us to win and do the things we want to do like win championships and take over the Big Ten and stuff like that, we’ve all got to work together. So our mindset is not just for me and him to be that tandem.”
Early in the spring, quarterback Wilton Speight described Peoples-Jones as having “freaky” skills. Now, after a spring with both, they share the description.
“They’re both very freaky and I think the new kids coming in are extremely talented, as well,” Speight said last Saturday. “I’m excited about how deep we are.”
Speight and the young receivers worked on timing that wasn’t always there in the spring. Now, they’re focused on offseason seven-on-seven drills in which all the quarterbacks and receivers participate.
“He’s used to throwing to Jehu and Amara,” Black said of Speight. “We have kind of the same style of play, but it’s still an adjustment. I’m not the same receiver as Jehu and Amara. We’ll get it down. By the time the season comes we’ll be ready.”
Black is grateful he arrived early at Michigan. He said he needed the time to adjust to college life and learn the playbook.
“Pretty much I learned how to manage my time for the most part,” he said. “It was tough learning the playbook and things like that, but I think I got an advantage coming in early, getting into the playbook for me to get a chance to play early, right away.
“(The) playbook is the hardest thing, learning those plays. It’s easy to get it right on paper, but once you get out there, things are moving fast. It’s kind of hard to think sometimes. I got a lot of it (the plays). I still have things to work on. I’ve got a lot more to go, but in the beginning it was real hard. I would make a lot of mistakes, but over time, once you make a lot of mistakes you just learn not to make those mistakes again.”
Being at Michigan early allowed him to travel to Rome with the team in late April. The Wolverines practiced three times there, and Black distinguished himself.
“I’ve been through a lot these past few months, a lot of crazy experiences,” Black said “I’ve been to Rome. I’ve never been that far away from home. That’s pretty cool, and I’m blessed to be here in this position.”