Provo • After BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum ruptured his Achilles tendon while setting up to throw a pass last November at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Calif., there were fears that a complete recovery would take up to a year, maybe nine months at the earliest.
An unrepentant optimist, Mangum said a few months later that it wouldn’t take nearly that long for him to return for his senior season.
He was right.
Mangum, who turns 25 on Sept. 8, received full clearance to participate in contact drills in April, just after BYU’s spring scrimmage, and about five months after the surgery. He is ready to compete for the starting quarterback position he once seemingly had a stranglehold on when training camp opens in early August.
“With modern technology and modern medicine [recovery from] an Achilles injury doesn’t take as long as it used to,” Mangum said at BYU Football Media Day last month. “I am so grateful for that.”
That Mangum has to compete with freshman Zach Wilson, sophomore Joe Critchlow and junior Beau Hoge for the spot after starting in eight games last season just illustrates how disastrous those eight games were for the former Elite 11 quarterback from Eagle, Idaho. He went 2-6 as a starter in 2017, beating only Portland State and San Jose State, teams that went a combined 2-22.
Whereas questions for Mangum before the 2017 season focused on whether he would turn pro at season’s end, inquiries on June 22 were mostly about his health and ability to bounce back from the disaster that resulted in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ty Detmer getting fired.
Mangum was also asked why he’s not irritated about having to win back the starting job all over again. After all, he has thrown for 5,158 yards in a career he said has “been a wild ride.”
Complaining about having to fight for his job isn’t how he rolls.
“I guess I just understand that in college football, every year is a battle. Every year is a competition,” he said. “And I have seen how unpredictable it can be, with injuries and performance and playing time. So you can’t take anything for granted.”
BYU coach Kalani Sitake said he and his staff didn’t make Mangum compete hard enough for the starting job before the 2017 opener against Portland State, handing it to him prematurely based on past performance.
“He didn’t have to earn it,” Sitake said, admitting it was a mistake.
The only quarterback derby in training camp was between Koy Detmer Jr. and Hoge to be Mangum’s backup.
In fairness, Mangum went 8-4 as a freshman after taking over for Taysom Hill (Lisfranc injury) and throwing the winning touchdown pass against Nebraska in the 2015 opener. He followed that with more late heroics to beat Boise State, and it was assumed he was headed for greatness. Even after starting miserably in the eventual 35-28 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, he turned it around in the final three quarters to give BYU fans hope.
But he lost the starting job to Hill in 2016 and played significant minutes only after Hill was injured. Mangum played just well enough to beat Wyoming 24-21 in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl, then had a subpar outing in the rainy spring game in 2017, signaling more bad times to come.
Still, he seemed destined to lead the Cougars back to a bowl game in 2017. It didn’t happen, due to injuries and ineffective play from the entire offense.
“Obviously, I understand that I didn’t play well last year, so I have to earn that job,” Mangum said. “I have to earn that right to be the starting quarterback. … In the quarterbacks room, we all get that. We are all aware that it could be anyone’s job.”
As soon as he could, Mangum went to work on his body, dropping around 15 pounds to look more like a physical specimen and less like the chunky returned missionary who served in Antofagasta, Chile.
“I am fully OK with having a battle,” Mangum said. “That’s healthy. It pushes all of us to be at the top of our game. And it is motivating us to keep working as hard as we can throughout the offseason. … We obviously have a lot of tough games, so we have to be as ready to go as we can be.”
Mangum credited BYU football nutritionist Dan Wilcox for helping him get rid of “a little bit of unneeded weight, a little unnecessary body fat.”
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick have noticed the transformation.
“He has certainly reshaped his body. He looks great,” Grimes said. “He is a different guy than he was when I first got here six months ago, and I am really liking the guy I am seeing now.”
Roderick said that if the season had started a week after spring camp ended, Mangum could have played.
“He is full go,” Roderick said. “There are no reservations about any thing with Tanner, as far as his Achilles is concerned.”
BYU tight end Laulu-Pututau, who is embarking on a similar type of comeback himself this season, said Mangum’s desire to return quickly and “get more chiseled” might not have earned him the starting job, but it has earned him the respect of his teammates.
“The thing about Tanner is that he’s always positive, always optimistic,” Laulu-Pututau said.
TANNER MANGUM’S HIGHS AND LOWS
Sept. 5, 2015 • Three months after returning from his church mission, throws game-winning touchdown pass — the Miracle at Memorial — to Mitch Mathews in 33–28 win at Nebraska
Sept. 12, 2015 • Beats his hometown team, Boise State, with a last-minute touchdown pass to Mitch Juergens
Dec. 18, 2015 • Plays miserably in the first half and brilliantly in the second half in a 35–28 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl
Dec. 21, 2016 • Makes his first start of the season in the Poinsettia Bowl and guides BYU to a 24–21 win over Wyoming
Sept. 9, 2017 • Suffers a high ankle sprain in the waning moments of a 19–13 loss to Utah and misses the next two games
Nov. 4, 2017 • Gets the BYU offense clicking at Fresno State, but sustains a torn Achilles tendon in the second half and is out the rest of his junior season
April 13, 2018 • Receives full clearance to participate in contact drills after having to sit those out in spring camp