PROVO — The guy who initially had trouble fitting in at BYU at all is now being called upon to be a crucial fit within the team's defense.
D'Angelo Mandell was listed as one of the two starting cornerbacks on this week's depth chart as BYU prepares to take on Massachusetts, a spot for him that certainly wasn't in the cards at this time a year ago.
Mandell went by the last name of Gunter back when he signed with BYU as part of the 2017 signing class. He changed his last name as a tribute to the family that took him in over the past two to three years, helping him in his development and ultimately fitting in at BYU, which wasn't an easy thing initially.
"To be honest, I just wasn't ready to be here," Mandell said of his first stint at BYU in the summer of 2017. "It was hard for me coming from home, and here is a whole different place. It was just different. I just wasn't ready to take everything in."
Home for Mandell is San Diego, where he prepped at Del Norte High School before arriving in Provo, where the culture shock can be intense for a minority athlete who isn't a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Before even getting into the fall practice session much at all, Mandell decided BYU wasn't the place for him, packed up and went back home. He spent the next 10 months doing something he soon learned didn't hold the opportunities he had available to him in Provo.
"I had to work a few jobs, and it kind of made being (at BYU) better than working at a grocery store," Mandell said.
Throughout all of it, Mandell stayed in touch with BYU coaches, primarily coach Ed Lamb, along with some other influences encouraging him, but the main source of encouragement had to come from another place.
"Ultimately it was just me. I needed to fix me first," Mandell said. "The same people helping me then were still there, so it was just more of a me thing, I guess."
Mandell has kept grounded during his second stint and has seen a lot of good playing time and performed largely well when called upon. He's been rotating frequently at the cornerback position, up to the point where he's become the guy called upon to start in place of Chris Wilcox, who suffered a season-ending leg injury.
"He's a long, fast, athletic kid," said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. "He's got a little more savvyness than (Wilcox) did as a freshman, but I think he can run everything that we do."
As for how Mandell fits in at BYU off the field of play, the second go-around has been much better due to his own perspective and adjustments.
"Nothing has changed. It's still the same old place, but I think I'm just starting to mature," Mandell said. "I think it's just me growing and seeing other things and appreciating being here."