PROVO — BYU quarterback Joe Critchlow never saw it coming.
When he returned home from his LDS Church mission last June, it appeared he would redshirt as a freshman in 2017 and gradually get into shape while watching and learning from starter Tanner Mangum.
In fall camp, Critchlow found himself entrenched behind Mangum, Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer, Jr. on the depth chart.
As it turned out, he was pressed into duty as a starter when Mangum and Hoge went down with injuries late in the season.
Critchlow won two of his three starts — the Cougars earned a win at UNLV, suffered a humbling loss at home to UMass, then secured a season-ending victory at Hawaii. Then, two days after the win on the Islands, Ty Detmer was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator.
Now, during spring practices, the starting QB job is up for grabs.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” said Critchlow, who completed 55 of 101 passes for 641 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. “But I hope to build off last year. I realize that I’ve had almost everything possible thrown at me. Hopefully, I can learn to react well to any situation that comes in these next three years.
"I always hoped and dreamed that I’d be able to play my first year back from my mission. I didn’t anticipate it before the season. But it came my way and hopefully I did well with it and hopefully it will help me to do well this season.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore from Franklin, Tennessee, is looking forward to Friday’s scrimmage and the spring scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on April 7. He said the experience he received last year bolstered his confidence.
“I know for sure that I can play at the college level and I can play well at the college level,” Critchlow said. “Also, I made a lot of mistakes in the three games that I started last year. It gave me a chance to learn. I feel that I’ve definitely improved since last season.
"I’m seeing little details and little improvements that I was able to work on over the winter. I feel like I still have a lot of room for improvement, getting through the reads a little quicker. I need to be a little more fluid in my drops but things are definitely coming along.”
Critchlow is one of six quarterbacks participating in spring practices, along with Mangum, a senior; Hoge, a junior; and freshmen Zach Wilson, Baylor Romney and Stacy Conner.
“We’ll see how the rest of spring goes,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said this week of the quarterback race. “It’s hard to project it for now. I will play the best one. I don’t care what year they are, freshman or senior. The best one will play.”
Though there are several quarterbacks battling to become the starter, Critchlow said the QBs are supportive of each other.
“The competition does nothing but help us. It’s a chance for us to compete with other great quarterbacks. The good thing is, all the quarterbacks here are good guys. There’s no malice or hard feelings. Everyone’s really competing with each other and encouraging each other to improve and get better. I feel like my individual game has improved because of that.
“We get along pretty well," he continued. "I would say that we’re very competitive on the field. But it’s never that we want another guy to do poorly. We just want to improve individually. Off the field, we have a responsibility to pick each other up, to help each other to improve our individual games. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t know who’s going to get the playing time. We just hope we have a winning season.”
The competition will continue during the summer and through fall camp, Critchlow said.
“We’ve received no indication of any decisions being made before that,” he said. “We’re just going to keep on going and keep competing.”
First-year quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick likes Critchlow’s development.
“I think he’s going to improve a lot since last season because he was fresh off a mission last year,” Roderick said. “He’s had time to get in shape and get his body right. He’s put on some good weight. He’s lean but he’s put on some weight. He looks good out here. ... He’s a smart, accountable guy who does everything right.”
For Critchlow, it was difficult to see Detmer leave the program last December, but he’s embraced the new staff.
“For me, it was a little tough. I felt like Ty Detmer was a good coach for me. He taught me a lot,” he said. “But I’ve grown to like the new coaches here. It’s been a process of developing trust and them understanding us as players and us understanding them as coaches.
"I feel like once we’re more adapted to their style and they’re adapted to our style, we’ll be able to get a groove going in the spring game and in the fall, too.”
As usual, Critchlow is preparing himself for whatever comes his way.
“I want to be able to completely understand the offense and have the coaches realize that I’m ready to go,” he said. “I can hop in there and be the field general if they need it.”