Provo • After leaving BYU’s football team in the summer of 2017 because he “just wasn’t ready to be here,” the defensive back known at the time as D’Angelo Gunter bagged groceries at a Sprouts store, was a busboy at a sushi restaurant and worked as a shoe salesman in the greater San Diego area.
“I worked a lot, and I hated it,” he said. “Every second of the day I was like, ‘why am I doing this?’ I just knew it wasn’t for me.”
Then the former football and track standout at Del Norte High realized that playing football at BYU was for him, and that abruptly leaving in the middle of preseason camp in 2017 after signing with the Cougars in February of that same year was not the best move he’d made in his difficult life.
At the urging of BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb, cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford and others, Gunter returned to Provo last June, grateful for the second chance. He’s now listed as D’Angelo Mandell on the roster, having changed his last name to the name of the family that took him in when he had a falling out with his biological parents years ago.
“When I went home after I came here the first time, I lived with a family whose last name was Mandell,” he said. “Well, now they are my family. I have been living with them the past two, almost three years when I go back home. I just decided they were my family and got my name changed.”
Mandell said he hasn’t talked to either of his parents in years.
“No contact at all,” he said.
BYU AT UMASS
When • Saturday 10 a.m. MST
TV • BYUtv
That’s too bad, because the redshirt freshman could relay some good news for them this week. Mandell will start at right cornerback on Saturday when BYU plays UMass at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.
He’s appeared in all nine games and started in two, but has been elevated to full-time starter because junior Chris Wilcox suffered a season-ending injury last week at Boise State.
“It sucks that Chris came down with an injury like that, because he has been working hard all season and he had been playing well,” Mandell said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. It is time for me to step up and help my team out so we can get this win.”
Gilford said the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Mandell has “no choice” but to be ready.
“He has a ways to go, like all freshmen do,” Gilford said. “But at the same time, his athletic ability makes up for a lot of things, because he is taller and he can run, and he can make plays. It is going to be interesting to see him out there full time. It is next man up.”
Fellow freshmen Keenan Ellis, Isaiah Herron and Jaylon Vickers could also see more playing time at cornerback. Malik Moore has been moved to safety, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said, noting that Mandell will start against the Minutemen.
“D’Angelo is a long, fast, athletic kid,” Tuiaki said. “He has got a little more savviness than Chris did as a young freshman.”
Mandell said his first stint in Provo lasted less than three months. He expects this one to last a lot longer. Why did he leave?
“To be honest, I just wasn’t ready to be here,” he said. “It was hard for me. It was a whole different place, and culture. It was just different. I wasn’t ready to just take everything in.”
When he decided to return to school and football, Mandell talked to Montana and other schools, but BYU coaches “were there with open arms” and he returned on June 24.
“It just took me a year to work a few jobs and see what the real world was like first. That made me appreciate being here and being on scholarship, playing football and going to school,” he said. “It’s a lot better than working at a grocery store.”
Or selling shoes.
ABOUT D’ANGELO MANDELL
• Signed with BYU as D’Angelo Gunter in 2017 out of Del Norte High in San Diego, Calif., despite a late push from Vanderbilt and other Power 5 schools
• Left BYU and the football program in August of 2017 for personal reasons, but returned last June having changed his last name to Mandell
• Has appeared in all nine games and made three tackles and a pass breakup
• Will get the first start of his career Saturday at UMass in the place of injured junior Chris Wilcox