Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Tony Paul preview MSU-Arizona State and review Michigan's double-OT win over Army and look ahead to the Wisconsin game in two weeks. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — When Michigan receiver Tarik Black scored on a 36-yard reception in the season opener, it felt like he had been there before.
And in a way, he had.
As freshman in 2017, he started the season opener against Florida and scored on a 46-yard pass from Wilton Speight. He was young phenom and after his 83-yard performance that day, he became the talk of the Michigan receivers.
“It was my first touchdown since my first touchdown,” Black said Wednesday night of his score against MTSU. “It was a really good feeling. Kind of reminded me a little bit of my first one, so it was kind of like a déjà vu-type thing.”
His first since his first.
Much has happened to Black in the interim, injuries he believes are finally behind him.
“You guys knows my history,” he told reporters.
Those who follow Michigan do know Black’s history. He was the Wolverines’ leading receiver when, in the third game of the 2017 season against Air Force, in which he had five catches for 55 yards, he suffered a broken left foot.
At that point of the season, he led the team with 148 yards on 11 catches and that lone touchdown and expectations were high. But those were squelched when he had season-ending surgery.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder made a full recovery but shortly before the start of last season, he broke his right foot while running a route in practice. He said he heard a pop after planting and knew exactly what had happened.
Black missed the first seven games but returned, although not at 100 percent, to play sparingly in the final six games. He said he is fully healthy now and has felt that way since spring practice. Through two games this fall, he has seven catches for 104 yards and one score. The Wolverines are preparing for the Big Ten opener at Wisconsin on Sept. 21 after having this Saturday off.
“Being able to be out there and play and contribute with my teammates and help my team is just a great feeling,” Black said. “I’m very thankful.”
It might have been a déjà vu moment getting that touchdown reception in the season opener, but it represented more than that first score as a freshman. This signaled a new start with surgically repaired feet, a rod and screws in each, and proof to himself that, mentally, he had moved on from those injuries.
“Just going through back-to-back injuries, that’s never happened to me. I’ve never been hurt playing football, so it was something new for me,” he said. “And I kinda got a little PTSD from it coming back in the beginning. But now I think I’m out of that phase. I’m past that and I’m ready to move forward.”
He explained what he meant by PTSD, and it made sense. All the second thoughts, the concerns about, “What if?” It’s only natural that after enduring the same injury in both feet, he would wonder, “Well, what’s going to happen next?” That can’t be chalked up the mind playing tricks, because the mind knew exactly the reality he had been through.
“After the first one, I didn’t really expect the second one, you know what I’m saying,” Black said. “After that it’s like, ‘What if it happens again?’ I’m out of that space now and I’m ready to go and move forward. You always have those little things you think may happen, especially coming back after two of them. Over time you just kinda forget about it and move forward. I’m in that space.”
Black said he leaned on his faith and developed a “better relationship with God.” He said he has learned to trust the process.
“That really helped me a lot,” Black said.
At no point did Black, a Connecticut native, think about quitting the game.
“No,” he said, his voice the loudest it had been during the interview session. “Absolutely not. Absolutely not. No.”
He also wanted to make a point about the Michigan receivers, who have been short one, since veteran Donovan Peoples-Jones has missed the first two games. He could be back for the Big Ten opener. Black said he’s not into making claims of being the best group of receivers, but he likes the options Michigan has, with himself, Peoples-Jones, and Nico Collins along with the slot receivers Ronnie Bell and Mike Sainristil.
He’s also not into setting personal goals. Black said his focus is to be a vital part of this team trying to win a Big Ten championship. After two weeks of the new up-tempo offense that’s intended to get the ball in the hands of the play-makers, there hasn’t been any consistent evidence of the explosiveness of this offense.
Black assures it’s there and will be on display.
“You’ll see, trust me,” he said. “This offense is going to be crazy.”