Football seniors reflect as BYU careers wind down


After a 45-10 pillaging of New Mexico State on Nov. 17, BYU’s 25 senior football players walked hand-in-hand off the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the final time, from midfield down to the end zone.

“Senior night didn’t really hit me until we walked as a senior class from the 50-yard line to the end zone,” said linebacker Butch Pau’u. “Going into the week all the seniors had said that we needed to win to get a bowl game, so it wasn’t until we took that walk that I was finally able to just sit back and enjoy it all.”

The 25 seniors come from eight states and six different recruiting classes, with a few players being recruited as early as 2011.

Tanner Mangum approaches Cougars’ head coach Kalani Sitake during BYU’s senior day celebrations on Nov. 17. (Claire Gentry)

“BYU is a one-of-a-kind place, there’s no other university like it,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum. “It offers a unique spiritual perspective. I’ve met some of the most amazing, kind and selfless people here and that’s what matters most.”

Mangum made headlines after stepping into the starting role as a freshman in 2015 and completing back-to-back “Hail Mary” wins over Nebraska and Boise State. The 25-year-old won 14 games as a starter in his career — including a Poinsettia Bowl victory over Wyoming in 2016 and an upset at Wisconsin this season. He added 39 touchdown passes while at the helm of the Cougar offense.

After not playing since Utah State on Oct. 5, Mangum was put in against New Mexico State during the second half, allowing the fans to give the Eagle, Idaho, native a proper farewell. Mangum said his career was a great character-building experience for him.

Tanner Mangum looks onward during his final home game as a BYU Cougar against New Mexico State on Nov. 17. (Claire Gentry)

“Through it all I’ve made friends and learned lessons that will stick with me forever,” Mangum said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and the importance of overcoming adversity, so when I think about my career it’s filled with gratitude for everything I’ve gone through.”

Senior fullback and special teams standout Brayden El-Bakri views his career at BYU as a dream come true that will serve as a motivating force for the rest of his life.

“One of the main things about BYU was accomplishing my dream when everybody told me that I couldn’t,” El-Bakri said. “I’m going to use that for the rest of my life to keep going at it no matter what happens. I’ve learned the importance of building relationships in life, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without BYU.”

El-Bakri’s underdog status and motor on special teams made him a fan favorite, highlighted by a massive hit and forced fumble against San Jose State last season.

“For some people, having the ball is a glorious thing, but for other people it’s getting to hit someone,” El-Bakri said. “I let my emotions take over a lot of the time. I just have a lot of fun out there.”

Senior night also allowed a few less-heralded players to see some action during their last chance to soak up a winning atmosphere at LaVell’s house. Pau’u said he willingly gave up one of his final defensive series against New Mexico State to allow linebacker Nate Sampson, one of the “hardest working guys on the team,” to take the field.

“I talked to the coaches and said, ‘You need to put (Sampson) in, it’s his senior year too,'” Pau’u said. “So Nate had the opportunity to play and when it was over he told me that he would remember it forever. The opportunity to play at LaVell Edwards Stadium is not given to many so we really got to cherish that tonight.”

As the seniors head out to their next stage of life — with a number of players planning to take a shot at pro day and the NFL draft — they said they can’t help but feel grateful for the fans who stood by them all along the way.

“Another unique part of BYU is the nationwide fan base. It’s been a blast going to away games and seeing all the BYU fans there,” Mangum said. “I’m really thankful for the fans that are there for us through the highs and lows. They’ve kept us motivated and their support means a lot.”

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