Tanner Mangum ready to lead BYU football

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Dani Jardine
Tanner Mangum speaks with members of the media during BYU football’s annual media day June 23. (Dani Jardine)

Tanner Mangum sat at the table, grinning from ear to ear, absorbing question after question at BYU’s Media Day, June 23.  Unlike last year – when Taysom Hill was the main quarterback media draw – Mangum is now the player garnering the most attention.

With the season opening up next month, and Hill vying for a spot with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, Mangum was visibly excited to get back on the field.

“This offseason has gone by really fast,” he said. “For me personally, it’s gone by a lot faster than last year.”

Last year, Mangum was relegated to the backup role after finishing a magical freshman season.  In the season opener against Nebraska two years ago, Hill went down with a season-ending foot injury. Mangum went in and led the Cougars to victory with a last-second Hail Mary pass to Mitch Mathews — a remarkable feat since Mangum had returned from his mission in Chile just three months earlier.

The following week, Mangum once again left his heroics until the end when BYU defeated No. 20 Boise State on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds to play.

Mangum led the Cougars to a 9-4 record that year and set the BYU freshman record for touchdowns (23), wins (9) and passing yards (3,377).

But reality set in after that season. Hill returned for the 2016 season and was again named the starter. Yet Mangum accepted his backup role and was extremely supportive from the sideline.

Mangum’s appearances were limited in 2016, but he took the time to learn offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s new system and prepare for the future.

That future came earlier than expected when Hill went down with an injury again, this time in the season finale against Utah State last November. BYU went on to win 28-10.

With few reps during the season, Mangum led BYU to victory in a sloppy, rain-soaked Poinsettia Bowl over Wyoming – the team’s first bowl victory since 2012.

Along with victories and heroics have come trials and disappointment.  He and his fiance Alexa Gray – a former BYU volleyball star – broke off their engagement last year, and in April, Mangum shared his struggles with mild depression and anxiety. He posted a message on Instagram during BYU’s Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this year.

“Being able to talk openly about mental health and spread awareness on that topic and help erase the stigma (around it) has been awesome,” Mangum said. “The outpouring of support and love and thank yous has been incredible.”

The attention the post generated helped Mangum reach out to others and talk about what can be a tricky topic to discuss.

“It inspired me to do more with it; to be able to use the position I’m in to stand up for a good cause, to reach more people and let people know they’re not alone,” Mangum said.

Mangum is unchallenged as BYU’s starter heading into fall camp. It’s Mangum’s show, and he’s ready for the pressure and spotlight that comes with being a Cougar quarterback, pressure he handled so well his freshman season.

“There’s pressure, but I like it,” Mangum said. “It’s a good pressure; it’s motivating, it’s exciting, it’s feeling like everything is coming together. I feel good. From a leadership standpoint, I’m feeling confident.”

Mangum added he thinks he can fill the role of quarterback and leader as an upperclassman now.

“I’m feeling really motivated, I’m feeling really excited. I think I’m not the only that feels that way,” Mangum said. “A lot of guys on the team are feeling ready to go, ready to step up, and make it a fun year.”

Mangum and the Cougars will open fall camp during the last week of July in preparation for their season opener against Portland State on Aug. 26.