SALT LAKE CITY — Nobody could have blamed Tanner Mangum for gloating, not after all the junk he has had to go through over the last year.
But the senior quarterback maintained his poise and composure in the postgame interview session, exactly as he had done during the football game in which double-digit underdog BYU surprised Arizona in the season-opener last week in Tucson. For Mangum, it was all about perspective.
“It was fun,” Mangum said in a low-key manner. “I was just enjoying it, just love the atmosphere, love being out there with my guys, just enjoying this time to play the game. Being healthy is something that I don’t ever want to take for granted again.”
For good reason.
Mangum suffered through an injury-riddled junior year, culminating midway through with a season-ending Achilles injury. He began the season with dreams of using it as a springboard to leave one year early for the NFL and it ended with his college career in doubt.
Even when healthy, Mangum never came close to matching expectations, which obviously were unrealistic. Before the multiple injuries hit, he appeared flummoxed trying to operate the offense under then-coordinator Ty Detmer.
Under the circumstances — Mangum already earned a degree and turns 25 years old this week — few would have questioned if he decided to move on from football. At the least, taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule, Mangum could have joined another program with immediate eligibility.
Instead, he shook off the numerous setbacks and vigorously attacked the rehabilitation process to get healthy. With the goal of returning to full activity in time for August training camp, Mangum participated in limited practice sessions during spring practice.
Then came the three weeks of practice in August, during which Mangum had to beat Joe Critchlow — who had ended last season as the starter — and upstart freshman Zach Wilson. The competition quickly dwindled to Wilson and Mangum, with the veteran needing almost every bit of all the practices to hold off the newcomer.
Many of the BYU faithful did not exactly greet the announcement with empathic enthusiasm. More than a few wanted the fresh face, believing Mangum was a tired story guaranteed to have another bad ending.
Little did they know.
Operating in a revamped offense under the director of coordinators Jeff Grimes and Aaron Roderick, both of whom were hired in the offseason, Mangum flourished in the first game. Far from spectacular, he provided exactly what BYU needed — efficiency without any big mistakes.
With BYU trailing 10-7 at halftime, Mangum directed a touchdown drive to start the third quarter and gave the Cougars a lead they never relinquished. The second half was the best he has played as a starter.
“It’s just nice to have a guy who’s been there before,” said coach Kalani Sitake.
Pump the brakes, though, before anointing Mangum as being able to lead BYU to a winning record and a bowl game. Arizona, whose defense has been notoriously poor in recent seasons, might end up being one of the easier teams on BYU’s schedule.
But there is no denying Mangum looks like a new man and BYU a different team. One big win has provided the jolt of confidence the program desperately craved.
Suddenly, the daunting schedule does not seem so overwhelming. To boot, with Mangum leading the way, the Cougars are favored to beat California at home this week
“I feel confident,” he said. “I feel good about where I am physically and excited about what we have going as an offense. I’m just enjoying the opportunity to be playing. I’m in my senior year and I want to enjoy it.”
So far, so fun.