When the ball is in the air and he’s nearby, Colorado cornerback Mekhi Blackmon believes he’s got an obligation to get it.
“That’s mandatory for my position,” he said. “Last year, I saw a lot of people deflecting (the ball), but I don’t have time to sit around and try to slap the ball. I want to get the ball in our hands for the offense, so that’s what I try to do.”
The junior has shown a knack for finding the football, and he’s putting himself in position to be one of the top cornerbacks for a team that’s in desperate need of someone to step up at the position.
During the spring game, Blackmon had two interceptions, including one he took back for a touchdown. On Aug. 3, in the only practice of preseason camp open to the public, he had two more picks.
“With young guys looking up to me as a leader, I have no choice but to set the standard for them,” he said. “If I’m not doing it, who’s going to do it?”
Good question. The Buffs are incredibly thin on experience at cornerback, but the former junior college transfer is rapidly becoming a leader.
A year ago, Blackmon was recruited to CU by former head coach Mike MacIntyre. With only 160 pounds in his 6-foot tall frame, it appeared Blackmon could use a year to redshirt and bulk up. Instead, he was needed to fill in at times, playing 172 snaps, with nine tackles and three pass breakups.
After MacIntyre was fired in November and Mel Tucker hired in December, Blackmon heard opportunity knocking.
“I had a chip on my shoulder because I didn’t really get the respect I felt I deserved last year,” he said. “Once we got a new start – everybody a clean slate – nobody knows anything about us, so that was my time to step up.”
Blackmon has become a new player under the direction of Tucker, a long-time defensive backs coach, and cornerbacks coach Travares Tillman. He’s been playing cornerback, nickel and Star, a safety/outside linebacker hybrid.
“They brought an animal out of me, to be honest,” Blackmon said of the coaches. “I’m going to be used much more than I was last year.”
Blackmon admits that 2018 was a valuable year for him to adjust to Division I football.
“Not playing made me really realize that this game is much faster than JUCO,” he said. “Watching film and watching guys ahead of me, seeing what they messed up on and what I could capitalize on really helped me.”
Although still lean – he’s weighing in around 165 to 170 pounds – Blackmon has capitalized on opportunities this offseason. Defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said Blackmon was maybe the most improved player on the defense during the spring.
“The lights don’t ever seem too big for him,” Summers said. “A very intelligent guy, very intelligent football player. He’s able to articulate, communicate and lead with everything that he does.”
Blackmon’s development has continued throughout preseason camp.
“He’s light years ahead of where he was in the spring,” Tucker said. “It’s not easy to get better. It has to be a deliberate and conscious effort and focus to do what it takes to get better each and every day. Mekhi has done that to a large extent. When he’s focused and when he’s deliberate, he improves on those days. He’s had a lot of days where he’s gotten better.”
As is the case with most players, Tucker wants to see Blackmon be more consistent with his good days, but the Buffs will lean on Blackmon this year.
Senior Delrick Abrams Jr. might be the Buffs’ top corner when healthy, and sophomore Chris Miller has exceptional potential. The other four corners are all freshmen, and three of them are new to the position. In fact, two of them – Tarik Luckett and Dylan Thomas – were playing receiver just two weeks ago.
Blackmon, however, carries some confidence, not only in himself, but in the group.
“We’re going to be good,” Blackmon said of the cornerback room. “Coach Tucker knows what he’s doing. He’s got his best foot forward and we’re going to roll with it.”
Blackmon is doing his part, and making the most of the opportunities he’s been given in preparation for the season.
“They’re giving everybody a fair opportunity to come out and play,” he said. “You just have to show up.”