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Following in his brother’s footsteps, Tanner Mangum puts the team first

Southern Utah v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

I’d have to imagine Thursday, October 20th was a special day for the Mangum family. I wasn’t able to visit with them personally, but I’m fairly confident in my assumption

Before the start of BYU’s matchup against the Broncos of Boise State, brothers Tanner and Parker Mangum had the opportunity to share the field, if only for a brief moment. Parker, a former BYU walk-on, was asked to carry one of the alumni flags while Tanner was selected to bring out the stars and stripes.

The Mangum brother’s don’t generally share the same lore that of other BYU Football families such as the the Collies, Paynes, Kaufusis and Warners. The two Mangums never came close to playing at the same time (Parker graduated in 2010 and Tanner’s first game came in 2015) and there aren’t many comparisons between their skill sets. Parker started his collegiate career as a quarterback, but most of his time at BYU was spent as a receiver or on special teams, while Tanner will be BYU’s signal caller this Wednesday as they face Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The comparisons between the two don’t extend too far beyond their last name, but after having met Parker, there is little doubt in my mind that he had a profound influence on Tanner this season.

***

Back in 2008, in what simultaneously feels like yesterday and centuries ago, I was in my sophomore year at BYU.

I had been home from my mission about six months and was still very much bemused by the idea of choosing a major, which in turn would likely influence my future career. Before the Fall semester, I landed on the idea of majoring in communications for a variety of reasons, one of which was the minimal math and science classes required in order to graduate. This also kept the door open for me to live my dream as a sports reporter for ESPN, since the broadcast and news journalism programs are under the Communications major.

One the entry level classes of the major was Introduction to News Writing, which I naturally modified to Introduction to Sports News Writing, based on the work that I was submitting. No matter the assignment or project, I was able to turn it into something sports related.

For my grand finale (final exam paper) I decided to write an in-depth story about BYU Football and the integral role that walk-ons played on the team. (You’ll have to remember that 2008 was somewhat of a renaissance for walk-ons at BYU thanks to success of players like Dennis Pitta, Andrew Rich and Ben Criddle.) I had high hopes of getting in contact with Bronco or one of his assistants, but my requests for an exclusive interview were ignored.

I continued on with the paper, but without a legitimate source from the team, my paper didn’t have much to stand on. Still determined, I would sometimes shimmy up a tree in the Richards Building parking lot in order to watch football practice to see if I could glean any insights. The only insight that was revealed to me was just how ridiculous it was to watch a closed football practice like a peeping tom.

At any rate, my bacon was officially saved when I was able to make a connection to Parker Mangum, a current member of the football team who happened to be a walk-on. I couldn’t have been more lucky, in part due to the serendipitous timing in which I was able to contact him, but mostly because Parker was incredibly kind and beyond helpful with my story. He let me talk with him multiple times as I asked a laundry list of questions, a majority of which were only asked to satisfy my own curiosities about the program, coaches and players.

Over the course of our interviews, there were two things that stood out to me. First, was just how much someone has to love the game of football in order to be a walk-on, and the other being that Parker wasn’t some average guy who didn’t want to let go of the dream of playing college football.

After a prolific high school football career in which he set 17 school records, Parker went to play quarterback at St. Mary’s. (Yes, that St. Mary’s. They fielded a football team until 2004.) In his freshman campaign he saw action in nine games and started three. Parker was also a pitcher for the baseball team and was on the mound in games against Stanford and Cal.

Mangum decided to transfer to BYU after returning home from his mission, but was unsure if he was going to try and play football. When I spoke with him he said it was his lifelong dream to play football for BYU, but he didn’t know if he was on the same skill level. He eventually decided to give it a go, but was a little surprised by his first interaction with Bronco Mendenhall.

“I remember the very first time I met Coach Mendenhall,” recalls Mangum. “I introduced myself and the only thing he said to me was, ‘Well, this program and this team isn’t for everyone.’”

Wanting to prove himself, Parker used that chat with Bronco as his motivation and made the team.

At the time I interviewed Parker, he was in the middle of his junior season and I was almost certain that he was going to make some kind of impact on the team in the following season. I could sense that he was a genuinely good person (and I think we all naturally root for good people) but in some small way I had already been tricked into thinking that most walk-ons would work hard for a couple of years and then their senior year they could start or make a few big plays.

On TV broadcasts and social media we hear the tales of these gritty walk-ons who rise from the non-scholarship ranks to make a major contribution. There might be one or two of these types of players, but there are also a good number of guys who see the writing on the wall after a season and decide to focus on their education. Even scholarship players will end their football careers if they don’t think they will get significant playing time.

At the close of the 2009 season, it didn’t appear as if Parker Mangum made any major impact. He worked his butt of for three year on the scout team, only to see the field in three games his final year on special teams. No game winning touchdowns, no acrobatic interceptions, no cliched walk-on glory. Just a guy who loved BYU Football and worked hard to be part of the program in any way that he could.

***

When Tanner Mangum leads the offense out onto the field tonight (for the first time as a starter this year) he will do so having endured a majority of the season on the bench, cheering on senior Taysom Hill.

In a perfect world, Taysom would have had a magical year in which he rekindled some of the magic he was able to weave in 2014, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Hill had his fair share of struggles, which lead to much uneasiness among the BYU fanbase. After every errant throw fans would call for Tanner to take the field to see if he could provide a spark that the offense so desperately needed. The coaching staff stuck by Taysom and the snaps Tanner took were relatively meaningless.

As Taysom struggled, Tanner had every right to be frustrated, but he never showed any signs of breaking from his signature optimism. His maturity and perspective mirrored that of his older brother and showed him exactly what it was like to make major sacrifices without seeing the field.

Ty Detmer’s decision to stay with Hill was aided by Tanner and his willingness to be a team player. From the outsider perspective, not once did Tanner complain about his new role. He could have been selfish and divisive, dividing up the team and forcing the coaches to give him more opportunities. In an age where entitled quarterbacks transfer after one season because they didn’t get enough playing time and running backs mouth off about their dearth of carries, it was refreshing to see a former Freshman of the Year award winner and ballyhooed gunslinger gladly accept his new role to support the team.

***

Regardless of what happens to Tanner tonight and next year, both of the Mangum brothers should always be remembered, not just for their influence on each other, but for their love of Cougar football and willingness to sacrifice for the team.