PROVO — BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum burst onto the scene as a freshman, throwing two late, dramatic, memorable game-winning touchdown passes in his first two games.
But as he enters his senior season, Mangum finds himself battling for the starting job that used to belong to him.
The Cougars’ most experienced returning QB, who has started 21 games and thrown for 5,158 yards, has recovered quickly from an Achilles injury suffered last November.
Can Mangum regain his role as a starter? Can he complete this comeback and recapture some of the magic he generated as a freshman?
“It’s been a wild ride, a little bit unpredictable. A lot of highs and a lot of lows,” Mangum said of his BYU career. “I didn’t imagine coming back (from a mission) in 2015 that I’d come in right away in the first game and end up starting that whole year. I ended up being the backup my sophomore year. I thought it would be the other way around. Obviously, 2017 wasn’t my best year. It wasn’t our best year.”
During spring practices, Mangum was held out of contact drills due to the Achilles injury. After losing 10-15 pounds, he is fully cleared, and looks leaner and more confident.
“It’s been a good recovery. It’s been a little more than seven months now," said Mangum, who turns 25 in November. "The strength staff has done a great job helping me get my strength and mobility back, and I’m actually stronger than I was before the injury. I’ve made it a priority to get as healthy as I could.
"With modern technology and modern medicine, an Achilles injury (recovery) doesn’t take as long as it used to. I’m grateful for that. I’ve been going hard the last couple of months. It’s been a good summer, a good offseason. We’re making sure we’re prepared for the upcoming season.”
Mangum will compete for the starting job when fall camp opens Aug. 2 along with junior Beau Hoge, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshman Zach Wilson.
Mangum's health issues aside, following a season that saw BYU finish among the worst in the nation in most offensive statistical categories, and with a new offensive coaching staff and a new offense in place, Mangum understands why he needs to prove himself all over again.
“Because of the situation, you get a little bit behind because you didn’t have the same opportunity (in spring)," Mangum said. "It’s definitely motivating to me knowing I’ve got to be ready from Day One. Right off the bat, I’ve got to show that I understand the offense and can lead the offense and be productive.
“It’s motivating for me just to give it everything I got now. It’s my last year and my last chance. I’ve been working hard to make sure I’m enjoying it and pushing myself and the team to give it our best go.”
First-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes liked what he saw out of Mangum during the spring.
“We got to see during the spring his willingness to work, to learn the playbook. He did a great job with that,” Grimes said. “We got to see him throwing to receivers. In that setting, he did a great job. He got the ball out quickly and was very accurate. What I’ve been more impressed with is the way that his optimism and confidence has grown just in the time I’ve been here with him. I see that eager, confident look in his eye.
"His body’s changed. He’s lost 10-15 pounds. He’s certainly reshaped his body and he looks great," Grimes continued. "He’s a different guy than he was. I don’t know who he was in the past because I didn’t coach him and I don’t care. But he’s a different guy than he was when I first got here six months ago. I really, really like the guy I’m seeing now.”
Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick was surprised by how much Mangum was able to do during the spring coming off a major injury.
“We kept him out of live stuff but by the end of spring, he was pretty much doing everything,” Roderick said. “Now he’s full-go, no limitations. He’s lost 22 pounds since I got hired. His body has completely transformed. He looks way more fit. His strength numbers have gone way up and his agility and quickness is much better. I think it’s going to translate well on the field.”
Mangum’s experience could give him an edge in the QB race heading into the opener at Arizona on Sept. 1.
“It should help him a lot. It doesn’t help him in terms of how I will treat the competition. For me, I’m going to evaluate what happens in front of me,” Roderick said. “It’s really important that our whole football team sees that whoever takes the field against Arizona, I want all of our players to know that that guy earned that opportunity.
"Tanner’s experience should help him if he uses it. He has to draw upon that and use it in a way that helps him play well in practice. It’s a huge advantage. There’s no substitute for experience. I expect that to help him.”
Mangum knows nothing will be handed to him, despite his experience and past accomplishments.
“I guess I understand that in college football, every year is a battle, every year is a competition. I’ve seen how unpredictable it can be with injuries, performance and playing time,” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted. I understand that I didn’t play well last year. I’ve got to earn that job, earn that right to be the starting quarterback.61 comments on this story
"I’m fully aware of that. In the quarterback room, we all get that. We all get that it’s anyone’s job," Mangum continued. "We want to help each other be the best we can so that whoever gets the job, he can go out and be successful. We want to have a great season. So we’re pushing each other. It’s motivating to keep working as hard as we can throughout the whole offseason.”
Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who has been recovering from his own foot injury, said he’s noticed how hard Mangum has been working.
“He’s always progressing. This year, the jump in the progression and the motivation and determination is even bigger than years past,” Laulu-Pututau said. “You’re going to see some great things from him in the future because of the work he’s put in. He’s going to do big things.”