Everything finally lined up for U-M receiver Amara Darboh

Mark Snyder
Detroit Free Press

Sitting in a Detroit federal courtroom last fall, even for the best reason, Amara Darboh was determined to blend in.

Aside from a photographer for the Michigan football program, Darboh only had one person with him as he became a U.S. citizen.

Darboh, a U-M receiver who had been born in Sierra Leone, was the most prominent person in that room by far but had one of the smallest audiences.

Now a senior, Darboh looks back on that moment as an achievement, but not what defined him.

“It was something I’ve been wanting to get done since high school,” he recalled at the Big Ten media days. “I took the time, studied, went to Detroit, met with the people and got it done.”

Passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch and his family got Darboh a cake and a balloon, the team gave him a game ball after the BYU win and chanted “U-S-A.” Then it was back to business and practice in Ann Arbor.

His teammates said they never realized he was preparing for it or even going through the process. The United States has been Darboh’s country since he moved to Iowa at age seven.

Darboh is all about the work and the background, which has pushed him as Michigan’s top receiver entering this fall.

A year ago, he led the Wolverines with 58 catches, had 727 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

Jehu Chesson had similar numbers but drew most of the attention as the team MVP and Big Ten coaches’ first-team receiver. Darboh was an honorable mention selection.

This spring, as Chesson sat out with an injury, teammates and coaches say Darboh got even better.

“I would say he’s our top receiver right now,” U-M coach Jim Harbaugh said, hoping for that given Chesson’s uncertainty. “And as we went through the season last year, I thought that was Jehu Chesson. And then Amara surged during spring ball there, and they’re in a very good-hearted competition there to be our best receiver.”

In his fifth year, Darboh finally has the synergy in his football life, with all the pieces in place.

For the first time, he enters the second year of an offense.

Fisch coaches the receivers and his consistency has made a major difference to Darboh. This coaching staff has focused more on film work and breaking down how receivers will be defended differently game to game.

“It’s huge,” Darboh said. “It’s because I’m comfortable with the offense now… Now I can spend time figuring out the defenses and all that. I’m not at the line thinking about the routes and what the guy next to me has and what release I can take. It’s second nature.”

That will be a critical element because, even though the offense is the same, the quarterback is not. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn will battle for the job and Darboh doesn’t see many differences between them, primarily that Speight is taller.

This summer’s 7-on-7 drills has allowed him to develop a rapport with both.

Facing off against All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis has kept him from complacency, as Lewis forces him to change his routine.

“It goes back and forth,” Darboh said about which side was winning. “I remember the first day we went out there, the defense got us. Then we came back, then it was offense. As players, once you start going against guys, you have to use counter because the first day if you do a dig or inside release, they jump it right away. Next seven on seven I do outside release, they think I’m going inside and I go outside so it goes back and forth.”

For the first time in years, Darboh’s mind is also clear of pain.

He broke his foot in camp at the start of the 2013 season and missed it as he recovered. In 2014, he had to take off days not to push himself too hard.

Only last year and into this off-season he was finally free of that, allowing him to push through that obstacle.

Michigan freshmen already attacking in football