Senior wide receiver Chris Black had options when he transferred from Alabama, but new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s vision for the Missouri offense proved overwhelmingly attractive.
“It’s the air show,” Black said with a smile Saturday after the Tigers’ third spring football practice wrapped up inside Devine Pavilion.
The Tigers’ new up-tempo, pass-first offense was exactly what Black was looking for as a graduate-student transfer with one final season to make his mark.
“It’s my last year, so I’ve got to be somewhere I’ll have an opportunity to make a lot of plays,” said Black, who met with Heupel, MU coach Barry Odom and wide receivers coach Andy Hill before joining the Tigers.
“I could tell they were genuine dudes and they gave me this opportunity.”
Now, Black’s eager to make the most of it, a process that has included positioning himself as a leader after only a few months on campus.
Odom said: “It’s always hard when a newcomer comes in to be a leader … but he’s taken a tremendous responsibility in trying to lead our team on that side of the ball and with that receiver group.”
It was something of a mandate from Missouri’s coaches when Black — 6 feet 0 and 192 pounds — joined the team. The Tigers’ offense struggled last season and an inexperienced receiving corps was part of the problem.
“I bring experience and leadership,” said Black, who caught 25 passes for 290 yards with two touchdowns in 25 games across three seasons with the Crimson Tide. “Of course, we’ve got a lot of young guys with a lot of potential and my job is to drive them each and every day. If I see them make a mistake, figure out a way I can help them improve.”
Black, who prepped at First Coast High in Jacksonville, Fla., suffered a season-ending shoulder injury as a true freshman in 2012 before finding himself behind Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White for two seasons.
As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Black made eight catches for 79 yards with two touchdowns in eight games. He enjoyed his best season in 2014 with 15 receptions for 188 yards.
Hampered by a left ankle injury he picked up during camp, Black again struggled for productivity last season, catching only two passes for 23 yards before undergoing season-ending surgery in November to repair the ankle.
“I’m not 100 percent yet,” Black said. “I’d say I’m probably about 75, but I told coach I’d give him 100 percent of my 75 percent.”
Black’s working in the slot for the Tigers and — while he is not yet in game shape and tends to wear down during practice, Odom said — already has become a model through everything he does.
“(It’s) his intent and his seriousness to be good,” Hill said. “He’s a guy who wants to maximize his year and he’s very coachable. He’s a ‘yes, sir’ guy, which makes it very nice for me … (but) he’s serious. Those guys can see when he’s out here what he’s about. Seriousness is the word I use, but presence is a good word to use. He’s used to being competitive in the drills and in the games. You can see it.”
Other Mizzou receivers are sponges for the knowledge Black gleaned as part of Alabama’s 2012 and 2015 national title teams.
“I talk to him all the time off the field,” junior receiver J’Mon Moore said. “We just have conversations about the greats that he saw go through Alabama and what he saw that they did to separate themselves.”
Other Tigers receivers have picked up on Black’s technical acumen at the position.
“He has a nasty hesitation step in the middle of his routes, which is something I’m trying to perfect myself,” junior receiver Nate Brown said. “We just build off each other every time we come out here. There’s more of a sense of urgency this year.”
If he can get healthy and stay healthy, Black brings a big-play dimension the Tigers’ offense lacked last season.
“He’s a guy that, with the football in his hands, is planning on scoring touchdowns,” Hill said. “Some guys are happy they catch the football and some guys want to do something with it when they catch it.”