Provo • It wasn’t because he had more experience, or more maturity, or was quite a bit older than the other starting quarterback finalist at BYU.
Senior Tanner Mangum won the job over freshman Zach Wilson because he “deserved it” with his play in preseason camp, head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday, a notion seconded by offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.
“He won the starting spot,” Sitake said. “That’s what we wanted to do, is create an opportunity for our guys to compete in every position, but that one specifically. We felt like he performed the best and won the spot.”
Having started in eight games last year, Mangum will get the nod Saturday night when the Cougars take on the Wildcats at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., the school announced last Friday by releasing its 2018 depth chart.
“I honestly thought it could go either way for quite a while [in preseason camp],” Grimes said on the BYU-produced “Coordinators’ Corner” show earlier Monday. “Honestly, I didn’t really care which way it went.”
Grimes said he was pulling for both Mangum and Wilson, Mangum because of “his story” of coming back from the Achilles injury that cut short his junior season and Wilson because of the way the “young upstart” prepared and competed for the position despite his age and inexperience.
“It was neck-and-neck,” Grimes said. “But the more camp went on, the more Tanner separated himself. … There were a number of different things that he just handled really well.”
BYU AT ARIZONA
When • Saturday, 8:45 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN
It wasn’t a tie, Grimes repeated.
Mangum was named one of eight team captains Monday along with three other offensive players — receiver Micah Simon, fullback Brayden El-Bakri and offensive lineman Austin Hoyt. Team captains from the defense are linebackers Zayne Anderson, Butch Pau’u and Sione Takitaki and defensive end Corbin Kaufusi.
A redshirt junior, Simon is the only non-senior captain. He said the entire team was ready to rally around whichever player coaches picked as the starting quarterback. Simon mentioned Mangum’s determination to return from the devastating Achilles injury and the way he reshaped his body (he dropped around 20 pounds) as ways the senior won over his teammates in the offseason.
Simon also said Wilson’s preparation and work ethic were also impressive.
“That’s what can win a team over,” Simon said. “Ask anybody in the locker room: We were ready for [Zach] to be the quarterback or for Tanner to be the quarterback. We are behind both of them. We know we can win games with both of them.”
Sitake said Mangum had a “huge sense of urgency” dating back to spring camp.
“He changed his body, but that was just not the only thing that he changed,” Sitake said. “He prepared himself in a lot of areas to be the quarterback and the competition [happened] really more [because of] how ready Zach was. It wasn’t that we weren’t sure who was going to be the guy. It was that two guys did extremely well and we felt that Tanner had earned the starting spot.”
Sitake said the decision was pretty much made early last week, but coaches wanted to go through the scrimmage last Thursday to confirm their feelings and inform the candidates themselves and then the team of their decision.
“I like this format [with an emphasis on live work],” he said. “I think I am going to keep it. I saw a lot of guys get better. … I guess it is true — if you want to get better at football, you have to play the game.”
Mangum called it a “long past year” since he ruptured his Achilles in November and said there were times when he doubted himself and his abilities.
“When they told me, it just made me think a lot,” he said. “It just made me reflect on the journey that I have been on. It has been wild ride, a lot of ups and downs. I was just really thankful to be able to play, to be able to have this chance to finish out my senior year on a high note. We have been working really hard as a team to get ourselves ready, to get ourselves in the right frame of mind, in the right physical stature to come out and have a good season.”
Sitake said he’s not the type of coach who pulls a player after the first mistake they make and talked as if Mangum will be given a fair chance before coaches turn to Wilson or two other quarterbacks who could also see time at some point this season, sophomore Joe Critchlow or freshman Jaren Hall.
“I don’t want guys having to look over their shoulders all the time. I don’t think you can play loose under those circumstances. We trust our guys to compete and we hope they can perform when the time comes,” Sitake said.