Tarik Black’s first two games for Michigan have been nothing short of exceptional.
A freshman receiver from Connecticut — not Texas, Florida or any other football hotbed — is starting for the seventh-ranked team in the country. He’s starting over his classmate, the former No. 1 wide receiver in the nation, and producing well beyond his years.
In two career games, Black has caught six passes for 94 receiving yards, and he even scored a touchdown on his first career reception.
“Coming in, (making an impact) was definitely something I wanted to do,” Black said to media Tuesday. “I knew I had to work my tail off and learn that playbook, but I knew things would happen for me.”
Enrolling early last winter, he had time to learn the playbook. Black’s impact on the field is already apparent, but he admits that he struggled adjusting to the college game.
At first, Black found that getting accustomed to a new playbook and new routes was not so easy.
“I struggled a little bit with the playbook,” Black said. “That was the hardest part. Once I got that down I was able to do what I came here to do.”
The nuances of actually getting open hadn’t been part of Black’s game in high school. Both in speed and in his overall skillset, he was a step ahead of all of his opponents, so beating out a safety or cornerback for a catch was never a problem. Though, with defensive backs around college football — as he’ll soon learn in the Big Ten season — it’s not as easy to break free.
In high school, Black did not have to worry about whether to sit in a zone or take the open space, and reading defenses had never been a concern. He was a four-star recruit and the No. 1 overall player in Connecticut — getting open back then was not an issue.
At Michigan, though, there has been a lot more to learn.
“We just run a lot of routes here,” Black said. “The more you do it, you’re going to continue to get better at it. The amount of routes you run is the reason why you get better at route running.”
Having gone through spring practice, fall camp and now two games, Black is fairly confident that he has already proven himself. However, he says that he still has a lot to work on, especially in being more physical in order to beat out cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage.
“At this level, you actually have to work to release,” Black said. “You’re not just going to run off the ball and run by everybody like I used to do in high school. That’s something I had to add to my game in order to get open.”
Physical play will come with time as Black continues to grow stronger. But his mental game is where he feels he has been able to make the most strides.
Black watches game film with redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight. He has already built a strong relationship with his new quarterback, and going over film together has helped him solidify that bond.
“(Speight) definitely teaches me a lot,” Black said. “I’ve learned a lot from him about college football. It’s definitely different than what I’m used to.”
When Black was “used to” high school football, he was lighting up backfields and earning his chance to play in the U.S. Army All-American game.
With almost a hundred receiving yards and a touchdown already, if he’s not “used to” the college game yet, Michigan fans have plenty to look forward to.