Provo • Having dusted off the final scrimmage of BYU’s preseason camp the other day, ready to turn his full attention to the first real matter at hand Aug. 26, Tanner Mangum’s comfort zone looked about as wide as Jimmy Kimmel’s, as though he could do or say anything and it would draw an approving reaction.
Man, he’s come a long way in a single year.
Last August, the on-again-off-again quarterback was more than a tad bit confused about who and what he was, within the boundaries of BYU football. The coach was new. The offensive coordinator was new. The attack was new. The circumstance was new. The proper order of things between him and Taysom Hill was old and new, and it was blurred.
Now, none of that exists.
Mangum is the man in Provo. He’s as confident about what’s coming next as any non-starter from the previous season possibly could be — on account of the fact that, as he says it, “I’m about as as prepared as I can be for … this.”
This … is a season that belongs to him.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and the other tenth is preparation. The combination of those two things, accompanied by an NFL arm, begets self-assurance. And Mangum is comprehensively self-assured.
“I’m excited about the season,” he says. “I’m having fun out here with my teammates. All systems are go.”
Mangum is smart and savvy enough to stop short of any kind of boasting. He hasn’t done much of anything yet; 2015 is mostly a fond memory, but he knows, despite months and months of drilling Ty Detmer’s offense into his head, months and months of working with his receivers, months and months of ascending to the top of the Cougar food chain, his heavy work remains ahead of him.
But in the same week that his junior season begins, he’s fired up in the same way a fully armed student who has crammed properly and stored up all the facts and theories, all the information and material required for acing a test into his mind is eager for the teacher’s exam.
He’s not nervous or anxious. He’s longing to attack the questions.
“I’ve put in a lot of time, we all have,” he says. “I think I’m ready. I’ll never be perfect, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
When Mangum speaks those words, it’s not streaming off any sort of stale, flat, rehearsed script. He knows and means exactly what he’s saying because he already has experienced the lightning and thunder of real competition. He’s fully aware that what he’s about to undertake is anything but easy — after Portland State, he and his Cougars get LSU, Utah, Wisconsin, Utah State, Boise State, Mississippi State.
That’s 50 miles of bad road.
He remembers the bone-jarring force of hitting the bigger potholes last time around — at Ann Arbor and in the first few minutes against Utah in Vegas.
But it’s different this time because he is more experienced and more fully advised. His substantial talent won’t stand alone in the whirlwind, with its flanks unprotected. Which is to say Mangum will not drop back in the pocket and roll right whenever he feels pressure, looking to bail out of a play and bomb a deep ball because he was nudged into a panic.
He’s acquainted himself now with better options, better reads before a play even unfolds.
“I feel real good about my understanding of the offense,” he says.
Kalani Sitake says Mangum has come to a tidy place between finding comfort in a play as it is designed to be executed and trusting his instincts to wander outside that design when an opportunity presents itself.
“That’s what a great quarterback does,” the coach says. “He’s a big-time player.”
Here, then, is a cluster of good guesses about the BYU quarterback. They are suspicions more than predictions, but grounded nonetheless in the evidence at hand:
Tanner Mangum will be far from flawless this season.
He’s going to screw up some things, going to gamble, at times, and lose.
He’s going to let the ball fly and see where that takes him and his team.
He’s also going to be enormously productive, going to rack up yards and TD passes, ascending through the season to a place among the country’s better quarterbacks.
He’s going to put up numbers that will make college football observers wonder why they left him off their preseason top 25 quarterback lists.
He’s got a great arm, got an aggressive attitude, got plenty of drive and pluck. He’s got a brain that is connected in some strange Vulcan mind-meld with Detmer’s, and a quarterback could do a lot worse than locking his consciousness onto an offensive oracle like that.
No wonder Mangum is comfortable heading onto that bumpy road.
I could be wrong. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time. But this is a quarterback who, if he stays healthy, is giving indications of being something special, of standing on the brink of achieving big things, the kind of things that lead to even bigger things in the years ahead.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 The Zone.