After 12 games of patience, Tanner Mangum's time has arrived


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PROVO — For a segment of the BYU population, the Cougars’ trip to San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl will be a long-awaited day.

Dec. 21 will mark Tanner Mangum’s first start of the season at quarterback, as well as — presumably, at least — an extended career for the sophomore signal caller as the Cougars’ starter.

How BYU got here after the 12-week regular season, though, isn’t how anyone would want to make it.

Mangum will see his first start of the season after former starter Taysom Hill’s fourth season-ending injury suffered in the Cougars’ regular-season finale against Utah State. The sophomore from Eagle, Idaho, is taking over for one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in program history — but he isn’t new to the equation, either.

Mangum played in 13 games as a freshman, starting 12. He passed for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions, earning Freshman of the Year honors from the Touchdown Club of Columbus.

He's completed 14 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in three games as a sophomore, playing mostly clean-up minutes behind Hill in wins over Southern Utah, UMass and Utah State (as well as a kneel-down at Michigan State).

And yet there was still some trepidation as he prepared for his first full start of 2016, if only for the loss of his good friend who happened to be the starting quarterback before Mangum.

“When that injury happened, it was heartbreaking,” Mangum told the media after the Cougars opened bowl preparations this past week. “He’s gone through so much already, to go through another one just hurts. Knowing he’ll have to go through another surgery and rehab, it’s heartbreaking. But the season goes on. You’ve got to put that part aside and focus on the game.”

Photo: Nick Wagner, Deseret News
Photo: Nick Wagner, Deseret News

Focusing on the game also means focusing on what Mangum can do as opposed to what Hill can. The two are not equal quarterbacks, though both have extraordinary strengths in their own regard. Hill leaves BYU as one of the top rushing quarterbacks of all time, accounting for 9,744 yards of offense — just ahead of former BYU great Jim McMahon. He ran for 32 touchdowns and passed for 43 more, the fifth-most all-time, just ahead of Steve Young.

To expect Mangum to be Hill, then, is unfair.

Or is it?

“If you saw what Tanner did in high school, he can run the ball, too,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “I won’t give away too much of the game plan.”

So here the Cougars are, preparing for an old-time opponent in Wyoming with a new quarterback who isn’t so new.

Despite his overall familiarity with the school, the program and the history, Mangum will be starting his first-ever game in offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s system Dec. 21. It’s natural to assume there may be some hiccups as he tries to take command of the offense.

It’s also natural to assume that Mangum could be better than he was when he was thrust into the starting role during the Cougars’ 2015 season opener at Nebraska. After all, he’s not freshly removed from a two-year LDS Church mission in Chile, but instead has practiced through spring, summer and all of fall as Hill’s top backup.

“I feel like I am definitely better,” said Mangum, who has put on close to 20 pounds of muscle mass. “Physically I feel good, and I’ve been able to learn a lot from coach Detmer about the offense that we have. We’ll have some new wrinkles here and there; I like the game plan, and I like where we are going.”

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The Cougars also have three weeks to acclimate him to any new concepts or systems.

“I think our coaches have done a great job mapping out our practice schedule,” defensive end Sae Tautu said. “We’ll practice every day before the bowl game. With spreading it out, it allows us to focus on finals but also be prepared.”

It’s a good thing, too.

“Losing Taysom, we’re going to need all that time to get ready,” Sitake said. “It’ll be beneficial for our offense and also to get healthy.”

Mangum has been the top backer in Hill’s corner as the fifth-year senior led the Cougars to an 8-4 record that included five wins in their final six games. By all available accounts, Hill has reciprocated his support in the trying time since injuring his left elbow against the Aggies.

In a lot of ways, then, Mangum will be playing for Hill when he suits up against the Pokes — even if they do have different skill sets.

“Football is more than a game,” Mangum said. “It brings friendships, and we are all pulling for him and hoping for a recovery.

“We’ll try to finish the season strong, and finish what he started.”

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