PROVO — Are these guys so deep in an emotional QB war really like this? They're paddling in a pool laced with saccharine.
Tanner Mangum’s smile has significant wattage even though he’s battling to win a quarterback race during BYU’s spring camp after recovering from injury.
That Mangum has to compete every day for something he earned last summer and the fall before could give him cause to be bitter.
But he’s not.
Joe Critchlow rode a crazy roller coaster as a freshman when he ended up the last QB standing at the end of the season. That he has to fully compete and perhaps has not received significant credit for his efforts could give him cause to be bitter.
But he’s not.
Beau Hoge replaced an injured Mangum last season before he suffered a season-ending concussion and foot injury. That he has to battle and compete to get back as the starter could give him cause to be disillusioned.
But he’s not.
Freshman Zach Wilson, once committed to Boise State, switched his allegiance to BYU and got himself enrolled early in January to compete with the rest of the veterans. He was promised a fair crack at the job. He could wilt under the pressure or feel entitled.
But he doesn’t.
Stacy Conner also came out of high school in Dallas early to compete, but an injury has limited his progress. He could be frustrated, probably is. But he’s out there daily.
This is a grinding, emotional, gritty battle. It’s QBs pushing, shoving, jostling, rising, trying every day to show their wares for the most coveted, historically renown job in the regional football scene.
You’d think there would be some animosity, some fallout. If there is, they’re not showing it. Instead, they appear to be best buddies, supportive friends, Pals Inc.
“It’s a unique group,” said Mangum. “I’m 24 and Zach is 18, Beau is 21, Stacy is 17, I think. It’s a pretty interesting mix of QBs, but we all get along.
“We have our different personalities and different styles but I like how we’re friendly. We are competitors and are out there trying to win the starting job, but at the same time we’re helping each other out.
"After every single play we’re talking about what we saw, what we could have done better; we’re pumping guys up when they’ve made a big play. It makes everyone better when we’re all on the same page. It pushes everyone to bring out the best in everyone every day.”
Hoge says the QB battle has been a worthy endeavor.
“It’s been good. It’s been a good, healthy competition. I feel like we’re pushing each other every day. It’s been good getting Tanner back in the mix. We’ve all really excelled and made great strides. There’s a lot of room for improvement for all of us.”
Critchlow says the competition has been mutually beneficial.
“The competition does nothing but help us,” said Critchlow. “It’s a chance for us to compete with other great quarterbacks. The good thing is, all the quarterbacks here are good guys. There’s no malice or hard feelings. Everyone’s really competing with each other and encouraging each other to improve and get better. I feel like my individual game has improved because of that.”
This bond isn’t fake, according to QB testimony.
“We get along pretty well," Critchlow said. "I would say that we’re very competitive on the field, but it’s never that we want another guy to do poorly. We just want to improve individually. Off the field, we have a responsibility to pick each other up, to help each other improve our individual games.
"We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t know who’s going to get the playing time. We just hope we have a winning season.”
Wilson, the rookie, the new guy on the field, says the older guys have reached out to him and smoothed his path.
“I’m glad I’m out here with my guys,” said Wilson, who is not intimidated and on certain days, has looked as good as them all.
“Beau Hoge is one of my really closest friends I’ve picked up while here, and (so have) all the receivers, they’ve been saying, ‘Hey do you want to go throw?’ on this day. Beau will reach out and say, ‘On this play do this a little better and that will make this a little better.’
"Getting to know them personally has really connected me and made me feel more comfortable in spring and not be too worried that this is college football; to be cool with things.”
Wilson recognizes BYU’s spring, which began with eight quarterbacks and a mission to narrow it down to three or four as quickly as possible, is unique.
“It’s tough, but you kind of expect it for this many QBs to get a fair shot," Wilson explained. "You try and do good with every rep and hopefully get more. I’m just worrying about myself and taking full advantage of my opportunities.”
In Saturday’s spring game, coaches are still debating whether to let the QBs take hits. If they go live, Mangum will have reduced reps. Hoge is nursing a sore ankle and is also limited, although he is still practicing full tilt.
It will be interesting to see how coaches frame the QB work that day.
And then, in just over a month, a new aspirant will arrive when speedy former Maple Mountain QB Jaren Hall returns from missionary service.
Correction: The original version of this story wrongly identified where Jaren Hall attended high school. He played for Maple Mountain, not Salem Hills.