PROVO, Utah — Tanner Mangum showed off his familiar cheeky, toothy grin Thursday as BYU began its first day of fall football camp.
The junior quarterback has plenty to smile about as he enters 2017 as the clear-cut starter in Year 2 of offensive coordinator Ty Detmer’s system.
That same cheerful, outgoing demeanor, however, has masked an internal struggle in the past. One that he confronted in 2016 and told the world about this summer.
Mangum has been living with mild depression and anxiety and reached a point last year where his parents convinced him to seek help. He learned the tools to cope with the illness with counseling and began taking antidepressants.
The university holds a Mental Health Awareness week in April and Mangum saw other students sharing their stories.
That’s when he opened up with his own struggle with an Instagram post displaying a picture of that beaming smile while acknowledging a personal battle underneath the surface.
“There’d been times throughout my life, different moments here and there, where I’d struggled,” Mangum said.
“(Last year) was kind of where I just started to feel it more. Where it started to really affect me, kind of take a toll on my life and my relationships and things like that. That’s when I decided … to try to figure out what’s going on in my brain and get some help.”
The decision has been a blessing.
What Mangum found out was that by talking about it, and by helping others, that actually eased his own pain.
Service to others has long been an important part of his life, as Mangum served a two-year Mormon mission in Antofagasta, Chile, straight out of high school despite being one of the top quarterback recruits in the country.
But this has been different.
“Being able to forget about myself and go and serve others has been really therapeutic and helpful and beneficial for me,” Mangum said. “Just to be able to eliminate that stigma and help people know it’s OK to get help.
“It’s kind of been an emotional roller-coaster. … I’ve even asked myself, how do I balance because I am very happy and positive and outgoing? I always have been. But also at the same time, I’ve always had that introspective, more emotional side to me that not a lot of people see because it’s usually when I’m alone or in small groups.”
BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark can sympathize. He’s dealt with his own mental health issue for much of his life.
“There’s a stigma attached to it and it’s hard to say that you don’t feel good, that you’re sick,” Clark said. “It took a lot of doctors. Once the doctors get you right and through some time, you can handle it. But depression and anxiety is a dark, lonely place. … I can see it in the eyes of players.
“People think there’s something wrong with you. But you have a chemical imbalance. Nobody says you’re crazy because you’re taking diabetes medication. … People want to say, ‘buck up.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Few on the outside knew about Mangum’s struggles and even fewer would have guessed as he set BYU freshman records for passing yards (3,377) and touchdowns (23) in 2015.
Senior Taysom Hill won the job back in 2016 after losing his junior year to injury, but Mangum played the role of the ever-ready and supportive backup without a hiccup.
Now he’s managing the illness and is comfortable as the leader of the team. Detmer said you can see the confidence in the huddle and the way he runs the show.
The offense will tweak with the 6-foot-3, 225-pound pure passer under center as opposed to the dual-threat Hill. The focus is on ball control and security in camp — keeping his completion percentage high and not forcing things.
“Can’t go broke making a profit,” Mangum said.
Defensive back Matthew Hadley was Mangum’s roommate for two years and knew about the illness. He and the team have just tried to be there for support, but Mangum’s announcement, and even the way he fought through beforehand, spoke volumes to the Cougars.
“We all just looked at that and said … that’s a leader right there,” Hadley said. “A guy that’s willing to make himself feel a little vulnerable just to be able to help other people.
“That’s something that a great leader does, he does his best to not make it about him. He’s going to come out here and put that smile on his face, to be able to be out here and lead. That might have been why it was such a shock to everybody.”