PROVO — A little more than a year ago, Tanner Mangum was the hottest quarterback recruit in the nation. The future Cougar, who hails from Eagle, Idaho, wowed a national audience at the ESPN-televised Elite 11 quarterback camp — earning MVP honors when all was said and done.
His football future was as bright as can be.
Mangum elected to place those prospects on hold, however, choosing to spend the next 21/2 years in relative obscurity. Like many BYU signees, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback has elected to serve an LDS Church mission, likely leaving this December or January upon completion of a semester of school.
You won't see Mangum on the field this fall, however, let alone see him suiting up for practice sessions. He's elected to grayshirt for the fall semester, under-enrolling so as not to count against his five years of eligibility.
"I'll be working out with the team and I'll attend a lot of practice sessions, but I won't be playing," explained Mangum. "It's something I decided to do in order to get a feel for college, so it wasn't all new to me when I get home after serving for two years. It's going to be tough — really tough — but I think it's the best thing I can do given my situation."
Following his mission service — when many of the Elite 11 participants he bested last summer will likely be starting at major programs — he'll work to accomplish what surprisingly few quarterbacks have achieved at BYU: find success after serving a full two-year LDS mission.
How short is the list of BYU quarterbacks who have flourished after returning from two years of service in the mission field? Well, it includes exactly two: Brandon Doman and John Beck.
Others, such as Bret Engemann, enjoyed marginal success, while Max Hall — the all-time QB leader in wins at BYU — didn't serve the full two years (he returned home within a year).
"It's going to be hard for (Mangum) to be away from football for that long. It's tough for anybody," said Doman, who coaches the quarterbacks and is the offensive coordinator at BYU. "I was actually the first returned missionary to win a conference championship (starting at quarterback), so up until that time it just wasn't a trend to go out there and eat armadillo, like we did (serving in Argentina) for two years and all that other stuff to come back and have success.
"It's a significant risk, for anyone, and it's why so few have been able to do it successfully."
According to Doman, many highly regarded prospects leave on their missions with everything needed to compete as a collegiate quarterback, only to return without regaining the timing, feel, and, perhaps most important of all, their passion for the game.
So what can fans expect from Mangum after two years?
"It will likely take him a full 12 months to the point where he can legitimately compete for the starting spot," said Doman. "Fortunately, we likely won't need him to compete until after a year and he'll have players such as Taysom Hill and Ammon Olsen to learn from, so we think it sets up well."
Mangum will obviously have to compete and retain that passion he has for the game upon his return, which is always easier said than done. Having that fire and competitive nature was something Doman was concerned about during the early stages of Mangum's recruitment.
"Tanner is just so danged positive and happy all the time that I was seriously concerned about his ability to get through tough things and compete," said Doman. "I was able to attend one of his basketball games and saw him really get after it and show a lot of that ability to just knuckle-down and get after people. It was shortly after seeing that when we offered him a scholarship."
Mangum committed shortly after receiving that BYU offer, with Doman ever mindful to begin refining his prized commit.
"I remember telling Tanner that he was as good, if not better, than any quarterback in the country and that he'd now have a chance to compete against the best that coming summer at Elite 11 camps," said Doman. "I told him that I expected him to beat them.
"It's not the same as football, obviously, but I wanted to lay out a competitive situation for the kid and then see how he prepared and then how he competed. And you know what? He ended up doing pretty danged good."
Indeed, Mangum came away from the Elite 11 camp with MVP honors, proving to Doman and everyone else that he could come out on top against the very best in a highly competitive environment.
"You see a lot of guys get back from their missions and they just lose it for whatever reason, but I'm confident that won't happen with Tanner because I've seen him rise to the top when given difficult situations and I expect he'll do the same after being away for two years," said Doman.
"You never know for sure how a kid will come back, but Tanner loves the game and I have great confidence that he'll be fine."
Being away from football for two years while serving a mission certainly isn't an entirely negative prospect — far from it, in fact. Doman feels that the positives Mangum and others can obtain over those two years greatly outweigh any negatives.
"The tradeoff — with all the leadership skills, the maturity level and everything else — I'd trade that in every time for what you can potentially lose over those two years," said Doman. "You just can't substitute what you can gain over the course of a mission and what you come home with. It can be absolutely huge for our players and has proven to be a huge benefit to this program."
Still, there is risk. It's one, however, that Mangum is more than willing to take.
While one might assume that Mangum stewed over his decision to serve after his football prospects rose, that wasn't the case.
"Fortunately, I decided when I was young that I was going to serve a mission, so before I had all of these opportunities to play in college I already had the goal of going on a mission. It's not something I really thought about not doing," said Mangum.
"It's going to be hard, but I know that I'll be blessed for it and I know it's the right thing to do, so it's not a decision I've ever really struggled with."
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