Until this summer, Tanner Mangum had hardly thrown a football for two years.
In his first college game, he faced a task only a few first-time quarterbacks have ever faced.
Win a game at Nebraska.
Those close to Mangum know he is the sort of player who could step in for a top-notch veteran like Taysom Hill for BYU, on the road, in Cornhuskers’ coach Mike Riley’s first game. The Hail Mary that gave the Cougars a 33-28 win was thrown by the ideal candidate.
“He was born to be that position,” said Eagle High coach Paul Peterson, who coached Mangum his last two high school seasons. “It just seemed like it was the next step of his natural evolution.”
On Saturday, Mangum will make his first start, and making it even more notable, it’s against his hometown team, Boise State.
“He might be a freshman, but he’s mature enough to play this game. ... I don’t really see him as a freshman; I see a football player. We’re not going to take him lightly,” Boise State nickel Chanceller James said.
From elementary school to starting at Timberline High while still attending junior high, Mangum has often played beyond his experience, and that 42-yard pass at Nebraska was the latest example. He completed 7-of-11 passes for 111 yards and rushed for 26 yards on five carries in a quarter of work with Hill out for the season (foot).
“I’m not exactly sure where it comes from, but my whole life I’ve just enjoyed experiences like that. I’ve enjoyed pressure situations,” said Mangum, a 22-year-old former LDS missionary.
Mangum said the last time he threw a Hail Mary before last week was in fifth grade, playing Optimist Youth Football. Like in Lincoln, the pass, on the road (in Mountain Home), was complete.
The youngster on the receiving end of that pass was Jackson Reed, who was a walk-on wide receiver at Boise State in 2012 and 2013. Reed said something happened later that fall, and it dawned on him that his best friend was something special. Around their Boise neighborhood, the kids had throwing contests, moving on from trying to toss into a truck bed to a more challenging attempt around Halloween, aiming for a pumpkin set on a stand at Reed’s house.
“We had him throw from across the street, and he hit it hard enough to where the pumpkin and the post went through my parents’ window,” Reed said. “That’s kind of when I was like, ‘He’s got a really good arm.’ ”
Like in college, Mangum’s first experience in high school was an instant success — he moved into the starting job as a freshman after Timberline’s returning starter opted to focus on baseball. Still a student at Les Bois Junior High, he threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns in his first start, and 389 yards plus four touchdowns, leading a game-winning fourth quarter drive in his second.
“He was never afraid of the moment,” said Alan Stanfield, Mangum’s coach at Timberline as a freshman and a sophomore. “It was kind of shocking to see a freshman take command like that, comfortable enough where to tell seniors to go. He worked so hard, guys quickly wanted to follow his lead.”
Stanfield said his experience with Mangum was so positive that he wasn’t afraid to play another mature freshman in 2011 as head coach of Shadle Park High in Spokane.
That quarterback? Boise State freshman Brett Rypien.
Perhaps the maturity comes from being the youngest of three athletic brothers — Mangum’s eldest brother, Parker, played receiver at BYU, and another older brother, Madison, is Idaho State’s top receiver. Tanner’s mother, Karen, said he always wanted to do whatever daredevil things those two did, despite being nine years younger than Parker and nearly three years younger than Madison.
“I’ve never seen the amount of poise he showed as a freshman,” said BYU senior Mitch Mathews, who caught the Hail Mary at Nebraska. “He gave the receivers a lot of confidence knowing that this kid isn’t scared. We’re not trying to win eight or nine games with a freshman. We’re going to win every game with his ability. We believe we can.”
Yes, Mangum is an atypical true freshman, considering he turned 22 on Tuesday. He graduated from Eagle in 2012, grayshirted at BYU and took part in spring practices in 2013 before taking his two-year mission in Chile.
Even though he had not played football in two years, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Mangum threw the ball once or twice a month in the South American country, and hit the weight room and film room hard upon his return.
“Tanner’s desire to study from the minute he got back has really helped him,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Plus his poise, plus his maturity, plus his individual makeup gave him a chance to go out there on his first college game after a mission and look like he belonged.
“And he was having fun. I mean, I talked to him and I actually wanted him to be a little bit more nervous. He just was excited to play.”
It’s not often a team loses a star player, yet has key leaders talking about a true freshman replacement playing beyond his experience, confident it can win every game.
That’s how it’s always been with Mangum.
“I’ve seen him pick up first downs when he needed to get an ungodly amount of yardage, and pull it off, so I’m not shocked,” Reed said. “People always have rallied around him. ... It just makes sense he’s got that going now at BYU.”