You have to feel for Tanner Mangum.
If he triumphs over all before him, he’ll be a legend. If he does not? Well …
He’s coming off an injury. He’s a senior. He’s paid his dues. It wasn’t all his fault that BYU’s offense faltered a year ago. He’s had golden moments, highlights like game-winning TD passes against Nebraska and Boise State. He’s got a worthy resume. He’s a great spokesman for the team. He’s done service, spoken to myriad groups, worked his butt off all summer. He’s made a remarkable comeback after Achilles' tendon surgery 10 months ago.
Yet, he’s embroiled in a duel for the starting job for BYU.
He’s fighting for the starting job at a school where his family has storied roots in generations. A building is named after his bloodline.
He’s caught in the crosshairs of a head coach and new offensive coaching staff doing everything possible to turn BYU’s offense around. In the past six months, it's been scorched earth. Nothing has been left protected, not titles, iconic faces, roles, schemes, routines, mantras, credos, drills, the form of practices, meetings, and, well, just all of it.
And here’s Mangum.
BYU’s last QB to have a 300-yard passing game is entering a final week of a “neck-and-neck,” winner-take-all decision by pass game coordinator Aaron Roderick and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes as to who will start at QB. Mangum knows the first thing they did when they obtained job notices to work at BYU was to recruit Corner Canyon QB Wilson.
If Wilson were a doe-eyed rookie stumbling around and tripping over himself, it would be one thing. But Wilson stepped on the field early in winter, got a spring session under his belt, and turned heads with his moxie, arm strength, confidence and fundamentals.
Whether fair or not, earned or not, Wilson represents the ever-popular new face at a position that has produced All-Americans, Hall of Famers, and two Super Bowl champions in Jim McMahon and Steve Young. It is a position that always has accompanying drama. Even a QB converted RB Beau Hoge found himself gobbled up in a 48-hour news cycle this week when his dad publicly aired salty feelings about the change and he didn’t do anything but go to practice.
Being a quarterback on University Avenue in Provo isn’t just being on a hot seat, it’s a dance on glowing embers of briquets.
Wilson represents a clean slate. There is no video of him throwing a pick-six, or of any of his passes hitting the dirt or flying over somebody’s head on ESPN.
Wilson is untainted, pristine, unsullied. He has yet to be devoured by armchair experts on the internet and social media. His Mondays have been unscathed, his Saturday’s a hopeful poster of optimism.
And here is Mangum, a year after revealing he lives with anxiety. Here’s Mangum with a four-win season in which he was the anointed starter.
Whether fair or not, Mangum has history. He has scars. He has baggage he has to tote and lift and show to the world that he can overcome. He joins a handful of others as the face of one of the worst BYU seasons in modern history. He didn’t play in the losses to UMass or Utah State, and didn’t make a bowl game, but he’ll always be bunched together with an offense that did.
In the minds of many fans, they love Magnum, but he represents disappointment they don’t want to be repeated in front of their eyes.
This is patently unfair. But this is football. And this is how he entered fall camp.
This branding is what Mangum has to overcome. He has to not only prevail over Wilson, but he has to win the public perception battle. He has to win back the huddle and the locker room. He has to win, win, win.
This summer, Mangum has been a partaker in all the good vibes Grimes has tried to relate with the offense. He’s been front and center of player-led workouts in summer. He’s lifted, run, lost weight, tried to be a voice of new energy and passion, of hope and optimism. He’s all in. He’s echoed the team’s best dreams, spent countless mornings and nights throwing to receivers in a summer of heat and fires.
Yet, he is not named the starter. Yet. In public.
Coaches probably know this very day what they’re going to do.
Regardless of whether the senior is the man or not, it should not be lost on the moment that Mangum entered 2018 in a very unique position, a very unusual perch in this long and storied history of BYU football.
You have to feel empathy for Mangum in his predicament.
If he doesn’t start, he’ll be the first sophomore, junior or senior at BYU to ever lose a season opener job to a true freshman.
And if it is Wilson, he earned it. In just eight months.
Then, what does that tell us?