BOULDER, CO - April 12, 2021:  Colorado cornerback Mekhi Blackmon during University of Colorado football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 12, 2021: Colorado cornerback Mekhi Blackmon during University of Colorado football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)

At the time, sitting out the bulk of the 2019 season because of shoulder surgery wasn’t what Mekhi Blackmon had in mind.

In hindsight, the Colorado cornerback said, “That surgery year did a lot for me.”

Last year, the junior was healthy and more mature and became a regular starter, quietly producing one of the best seasons by a cornerback in the Pac-12. He posted 16 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception in a five-game regular season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. He added three tackles and two pass breakups against Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Although he didn’t get any All-Pac-12 honors, he was graded as the third-best corner in the conference by Pro Football Focus.

“I felt like I had a lot to prove coming into this COVID year,” Blackmon said. “Even though we didn’t get a lot of feeling with the team when we came out, I was able to do what I did. Awards, that’s based on what people think about me, but I feel like as long as my team knows what I do for them, that’s pretty much all that matters to me.”

The 6-foot, 170-pound Blackmon joined CU in 2018 as a transfer from the College of San Mateo.

Blackmon showed a knack for making big plays in open scrimmages and started three of the eight games he played in 2018. In 2019, he started the first two games at cornerback, missed a game due to his shoulder injury, and then played two games at nickel before electing to have season-ending surgery.

Last season, he started all six games and played more than 95% of the defensive snaps, becoming a reliable player for CU head coach Karl Dorrell and secondary coaches Demetrice Martin and Brett Maxie.

“I always had confidence,” Blackmon said. “It was always there, but it’s just a sense of somebody believing in me — coach Dorrell, coach Meat (Martin), coach Maxie giving me an opportunity to play.”

This spring, CU has completed eight of 15 practices, and the experienced Blackmon is showing up as a leader in the secondary.

“Mekhi has taken a leadership role,” Martin said. “He’s trying to push guys along, obviously, showing them that, ‘Hey man, hard work is gonna pay off and put yourself in a good position to be able to make plays during the season.’ He’s working on that end and he’s making a conscious effort, which is good to see. When you’ve got a guy that wants the guys to follow him, it forces him to work harder and be a leader by example, too.”

After playing exclusively at outside corner last year, Blackmon said he’s been working at nickel this spring.

“We have a few newcomers this spring, early enrollees, so right now they’re trying to get those guys caught up to speed,” he said. “I’ve told (the coaches) I wanted to go into the nickel, I wanted to play in the slot, which will help me more when I do go back to corner in the fall. I just had to understand different leverages and stuff like that. So I feel like it’s gonna boost my game.”

Martin said the move isn’t necessarily permanent but is another example of CU coaches cross-training defensive backs so they can fill various roles when needed.

“We want guys to be able to play different positions and be true defensive backs,” Martin said. “Moving guys around and getting familiar with the defense, within playing different spots that way, they can better master their spots that they hone in on later on in the season.”

To this point, it’s been a unique journey for Blackmon, who has been at CU for three years, while exhausting only one year of eligibility. Despite playing in 10 games over the past two years, neither season counted toward his eligibility. He used 2019 as a redshirt year, and the NCAA counted 2020 as a free year of eligibility for all players because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the third straight year, Blackmon will be listed as a junior, which means he has plenty of time to get even better.

While he’s not focused on awards, Blackmon recently had a chance to talk with one of CU’s great cornerbacks, Chris Hudson, during a virtual football event. In 1994, Hudson won the Jim Thorpe Award — the top honor for a college defensive back.

“It was really eye-opening,” Blackmon said, “because based on what he’s done — he’s been in the (NFL), he’s won the Jim Thorpe Award — he was really humble and very opening towards me. You can tell CU has, like, a sense of family and brotherhood. Him telling me what I need to do, what I need to focus on, he let me know that he’s watching and everything.

“The confidence is there, but that feels good to hear somebody of upper authority noticing what you’re doing and how our team is doing. That was cool for me.”