Blackmon Looks To Lend Leadership To Buffs Secondary
BOULDER — During a shortened 2020 season, it was a rare sight to see the Colorado Buffaloes defense on the field without junior cornerback Mekhi Blackmon.
Blackmon has been with the Buffs since 2018, and had five starts over the 2018-2019 seasons. Last year, he started at right cornerback in all six contests and played 403 defensive snaps — second on the team behind Derrion Rakestraw with 409. He also totaled 16 tackles, four pass breakups, four third down stops and one interception in five regular season games and tacked on two pass breakups and three tackles in the Alamo Bowl.
This year, he is again listed as a starting cornerback as the Buffs prepare to open their season Friday against Northern Colorado in a 7 p.m. game at Folsom Field (Pac-12 Network).
Due to an injury early in the 2019 campaign and the "free" year of eligibility from 2020, it will be the third season that Blackmon will be listed as a junior on the CU roster. This is, however, the first year that he will have the same head coach in consecutive seasons, which has helped head coach Karl Dorrell see Blackmon's improvement.
"I've been pleased with where Mekhi is," Dorrell said recently. "He worked hard this summer and he looks good and very competitive."
All of Blackmon's work and success has not gone unnoticed. He was a preseason second team All-Pac-12 selection by the Pac-12 media and is also on the Senior Bowl watch list.
The East Palo Alto, Calif., native is looking to use his success and experience to be a leader to a young but talented Colorado secondary. Young players like second-year freshman Christian Gonzalez and true freshmen Tyrin Taylor, Kaylin Moore, and Nikko Reed have shown they can make plays and certainly will provide depth to the cornerback position.
"Me and Isaiah (Lewis, starting safety) are trying to be leaders to this group," said Blackmon. "But at the same time, we're trying to bring other guys with us. Because where we're going there can't be any dropoff."
As a cornerback, there is very little room for error. It is a position that requires a very high level of mental strength, and second-year freshman Christian Gonzalez has looked to Blackmon for positivity.
"Mekhi took me under his wing," said Gonzalez. "He showed me how to watch tape, what I need to improve on, and he helped me with my mentality. He's really strong minded and I've picked up on that."
Blackmon is certainly no stranger to adversity. He played his first year of college ball at College of San Mateo and in his collegiate career has had four different head coaches. When he first played with the Buffaloes in 2018, he dealt with being in and out of the lineup and in his past two seasons has suffered several injuries. Through all of this, he has had a positive mindset and has learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. He maintains this attitude on the field as well.
"You need to have a one play at a time mindset," Blackmon said. "If something bad happens or something good happens you have to wash it and move on to the next play."
The junior has done several things to improve his game. After coming to CU weighing just 160 pounds, he has worked hard the past few years and is now over 170. He has also played some nickel back occasionally in order to see a different part of the game. An important goal of his this year is to get more interceptions after getting just one in 2020.
"As a secondary, we dropped too many interceptions and we didn't capitalize on our opportunities," said Blackmon. "Everyday after practice, we're catching passes as a receiver so that when the opportunity presents itself, we're ready."
Along with Blackmon, players like juniors Lewis and Chris Miller, and sophomores Mark Perry and Nigel Bethel are all players in the secondary that have been around the Colorado program for several years. This continuity and closeness is something that Blackmon values.
"We're all close and able to relate," said Blackmon. "We like to compete so it's easy for us to get on each other when something goes wrong. It's really like we're brothers, it's not even like we're teammates at this point."
Blackmon is a confident and competitive player. With CU having three games against top-25 opponents in their first five games, he is excited for the high level of competition.
"I like difficult schedules," said Blackmon. "I don't like smashing teams, I like things to be a challenge."