BYU football began spring practice on Feb. 27 with a new leader under center.
But he’s also an old one.
Junior quarterback Tanner Mangum is once again at the helm of the BYU offense, replacing Taysom Hill. But that’s nothing new for Mangum.
Coach Kalani Sitake said he’s optimistic about Mangum’s ability to lead.
“It’s huge,” Sitake said of Mangum’s experience. “He was on the headset all last year and was able to hear Ty (Detmer) speak on every play and the way he calls plays. He made a lot of audibles today that he struggled with last spring. I was really pleased with how he executed the offense.”
Mangum replaced Taysom Hill in 2015 in the season opener against Nebraska. Hill suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury and left the game in the fourth quarter. He had been playing great and many figured his absence would spell doom for the Cougars.
No one told Mangum.
The then-freshman, who was just weeks removed from the completion of his LDS mission in Argentina, completed 7-of-11 passes for 111 yards and the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown. The Cougars knocked off Nebraska in a season opener for the first time in 29 years and the eyes of Cougar Nation were fixed on Mangum.
Mangum went on to lead BYU football to a 9-4 record, including a near 35-point comeback against the Utah Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl. He threw for 25 touchdowns and a BYU freshman record 3,377 yards. He was named the Freshman of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus (joining the likes of Todd Gurley, Julio Jones and Adrian Peterson).
He performed so well that Hill’s status was up in the air. The quarterback had received a medical redshirt in 2015, giving him a fifth season of eligibility. With offers from Michigan, Stanford and Virginia, it was thought Hill’s final year wouldn’t be in Provo.
Then, on Feb. 16, 2016, Hill announced he’d be returning to the Cougars.
Sitake and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer denied there were any issues.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Sitake jokingly said at spring practice last season.
Mangum echoed the sentiments of his coach, saying there wasn’t a “Team Taysom” or “Team Tanner,” adding that he “trusts the coaches.”
Hill was named the starter before the Cougars opened the 2016 season at Arizona. Mangum was relegated to the bench amid reports of practice struggles.
Mangum took a knee in the final play of BYU’s 31-14 victory over Michigan State on Oct. 8 and the coaching staff announced he wasn’t taking a redshirt.
Mangum wouldn’t play again until Nov. 12 against Southern Utah. He completed 11-of-13 passes in the game and took four carries for 42 yards. He threw four passes the next week against UMass.
On Nov. 26, disaster struck again for Hill. He scrambled against the Utah State Aggies, attempted to hurdle a player and extended his left arm to brace his fall. He strained his elbow on the play and required surgery.
With Hill unable to play in the Poinsettia Bowl, Mangum took over for the Cougars against Wyoming.
Mangum completed 8-of-15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in less-than-ideal conditions for throwing the football.
Now, he’s back at the helm for the Cougars. No more quarterback competitions. It’s his team.
“It helps with the confidence,” Mangum said. “Just knowing that you’re going to get the reps.”
With the spring game scheduled for March 25 at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Sitake and the Cougars are staying focused on long-term goals and the regular season.
BYU opens the 2017 season at home against Portland State on Aug. 26. As a result, BYU is concerned with the little things.
“Get stronger, get bigger,” Mangum said when asked about the team’s goals this spring. “That’s what we want to do.”
The junior added he’s trying to “master the offense.”
Detmer said Mangum is well on his way to that goal.
“Good,” Detmer said of Mangum’s day. “He was under control. He saw things. This time last year, he had no idea where guys were lining up. So he’s got much greater control of the offense. The throws? He’s always been able to make the throws. I’m happy with the first day.”
The Cougars have a few months to go before their seasons starts. Huge games with LSU, Utah and Wisconsin round out the first month of the season.
But for now, Mangum is just excited to get the ball rolling.
“It feels good to get out here and get started,” Mangum said. “I’m just excited. I’m feeling good and I’m really focused.”