PROVO -- After thrusting in his proverbial sickle for two years as a Mormon missionary in Chile, Tanner Mangum has taken over the football field, reaping seemingly miraculous plays and bringing pigskin salvation to BYU Nation.
Two Saturdays ago, the freshman quarterback completed a 42-yard Hail Mary pass with no time left to edge Nebraska 33-28.
In Week 2, he worked his magic again, tossing a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 with 45 seconds remaining to give BYU a 28-24 lead over No. 20 Boise State.
The two barely believable throws now sit in the program’s all-time archives near “Beck to Harline” and “Fourth-and-18.”
But Mangum isn’t letting it go to his head.
True to form, the returned missionary has been humble about his early success, rerouting the glory to his teammates: “So proud to be a part of this team that never gives up!” he recently tweeted.
Humility isn’t the only principle Mangum personifies. Since taking over for the injured Taysom Hill, he’s embodied diligence and self-determination -- traits he developed and honed during his mission.
“I see the lessons it taught me every day,” the 22-year-old said in an interview with USA Today. “It carries over to football. Having to work hard, having to do hard things, having to be independent.”
His mom, Karen Mangum, also recognizes the positive effects her son’s mission has had on him. In an interview with ESPN, she said, “It's just incredible what happens. They come back so much more focused. They're independent thinkers. They are responsible. I think it makes a big difference. They have goals. They have direction. They’ve learned to do hard things.”
Two years ago, when Mangum postponed his football dream to represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a necktie-wearing, Book of Mormon-toting missionary, some people doubted his decision.
After all, the only football he might get a chance to play in South America would likely involve kicking an inflated sphere into a net.
That, however, didn’t phase No. 12.
In a tweet dated July 5, 2013, Mangum wrote: “I love it when I hear people say I'm throwing away my career by serving a mission. It'll make it that much sweeter when I prove them wrong.”
Two years and two games later, it looks like he’s done just that. But Mangum -- whose name has made its way onto multiple Heisman Trophy watch lists -- is just getting started.
And like a prototypical missionary, he’s putting his shoulder to the wheel for someone else.
“Why not do it again?!” he tweeted Sunday night. “Believing and fighting to the end! And we do it #4Taysom.”
Jared Bray is a contributing writer for the Deseret News. He also reports in English and Tagalog (a language he learned while serving a two-year church mission in the Philippines) for Balitang America, a nightly news program of The Filipino Channel.