Tarik Black talks about preparing to start for Michigan at receiver. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan freshman receiver Tarik Black spoke this summer of having something to prove.
He’s the kid from Connecticut, you know, not the No. 1 receiver coming out of high school. So he’s had to work that extra bit harder to wake up those who he said have been “sleeping” on him.
Through two games this season, Black has opened some eyes. He is the Wolverines’ second-leading receiver with six catches for 94 yards, including a touchdown. That touchdown came on his first reception, a 46-yarder from Wilton Speight.
Michigan, ranked No. 7, will face Air Force at noon Saturday at Michigan Stadium (BTN/WWJ 950).
“I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder coming from Connecticut,” Black said Tuesday after practice.
“I just wanted to go out there and play my game, no matter who I was going up against. I think I did a pretty good job of that, but I think I still have a lot to work on. I’m still not where I want to be.”
Black arrived as an early enrollee with Donovan Peoples-Jones, the nation’s top-rated receiver. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh recently called both of them two of his “personal favorites on the team.” During the summer, Speight said Black and Peoples-Jones were both “freaky” talents.
Coming in early, and working out and competing with Peoples-Jones helped Black reach this point.
“I struggled a little bit with the playbook,” Black said of the spring. “That was the hardest part. Once I got that done, I was able to do what I came here to do.”
Black arrived at Michigan fully expecting the defense to be faster than what he was accustomed to in high school and more challenging. With that approach, he avoided being caught off guard.
The biggest adjustment for freshmen always is the speed of the college game. It was no different for Black, who never felt greatly challenged by high school teammates. He said he never had an “aha!” moment but that it all happened gradually.
“Going through the practices in the spring, it took me time to adjust to the spring and to the competition level,” Black said. “Once I realized I was able to make plays, the plays I made in high school, I just knew I was able to do it at this level.”
Black (6-foot-3, 206 pounds) had every intention of having an impact on the offense from the moment he stepped on the field this season.
“Coming in it was definitely something I wanted to do, so I knew I had to work my tail off and learn that playbook,” he said. “I knew things would happen for me.”
He wants to become more physical and credits teammates and cornerbacks Lavert Hill, Ambry Thomas and David Long for making him work harder. They’re making him improve, and he has plenty of that to do, he said.
“I want to work on my releases a little bit better and my route running,” Black said. “Pretty much everything, to be honest. I’m not where I want to be at.”
The challenge in the offseason for Speight was to work on timing with the young receivers and develop chemistry. Speight and Black watch a lot of film together as they continue to get their timing down.
Black said Speight teaches him the nuances of football and how to read defenses, which he didn’t have to do in high school. Meanwhile, Black and Peoples-Jones are roommates who also stay after practices to catch passes and work on ball security.
It’s only been two games, but Black is working to make sure no one sleeps on him again.