PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – There had to be a very good reason for Samson Nacua to leave his beloved Utes for BYU, and for highly-touted Puka Nacua to leave Washington to join the Cougars.
There was. Their grandma had cancer, and she wanted her boys back in Provo.
“Coming back to be home with family for sure,” said Samson, who caught 82 passes for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns over four seasons at Utah. “Grandma was sick, mom was going through a lot trying to help grandma. Me and Puka were talking that dang, bro, we hadn’t played with each other in a long time, since pee-wee football. So it was perfect timing for everything.”
Plus, their older brother Kai Nacua was a star safety at BYU (now with the San Francisco 49ers). Their dad Lionel, who passed away from diabetes in 2012, always wanted his all of his sons to play for the Cougars.
“My dad, it kind of started with him,” said Puka, who was one of the highest recruited football players ever to come out of the state Utah. “Him having the idea that all of us brothers being able to play at the same school. It started with Kai coming here to BYU, but then my grandma, my mom’s mom, she used to come to my games in high school. But she was never a fan of going outside the house. But she said if we were to come play at BYU, she would be there every game. So, when she said that, we were like, OK, we’ll be there. We’ve always got to listen to mama. And then if mom’s mom says something, there is no hesitating there.
For Samson, who is two years older than Puka, perhaps hardest part about leaving Utah for BYU was having to cut his trademark locks.
“Facts,” Samson said with a laugh. “That was definitely the hardest. My heart was broken that I had to cut my hair. You saw how majestic the flow was, man. It was so beautiful, man. I was sad.”
But in all actuality, it was an emotional decision for Samson to leave the University of Utah.
“That whole week leading up to it, if you would ask the guys, I was balling my eyes out every day in the locker room,” he said. “I knew what was best for me and my family, but to step away from my teammates and my brothers like that after five years grinding with these guys. That was definitely the hardest decision, but they supported me.”
After setting numerous state records and winning a couple of state championships at Orem High, Puka was recruited by a number of schools, including Utah and BYU. But he wanted to leave home, and committed to the University of Washington. After two seasons in Seattle, where he caught 16 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns, Puka realized how much he missed Utah.
“I love Utah,” Puka said. “But it took me to leave me to leave Utah to realize how much I really loved it. Having the mountains, waking up and looking out from our house see the ‘Y’ on the mountain, it’s beautiful. It’s a site that I love and I took for granted definitely.”
Now, for the first time since they were little kids, Samson and Puka are on the same team. But that sibling competitiveness is still going strong.
“Whenever you catch us at the Provo Rec, or pickleball or wherever,” said Samson, who played at Timpview High School. “When me and Puka get together and play, we elevate each other’s games to the next level.”
“It brings out the best and the worst,” Puka said. “That’s the thing. He out of anybody knows how to push my buttons the most. We played against each other in high school, and I’ll never forget that because I wanted to win so badly. The little brother role is still in effect. I thought I would at least get him one time, but it didn’t happen. But we’re four-time state champs, so.”
How often does he remind Samson of that?
“A lot. Every day actually.”
Puka and Samson join a loaded BYU receiving corps that includes Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u. So maybe the only person happier than their grandma is head coach Kalani Sitake.
“Oh, I’m excited,” he said with a smile.
BYU kicks off the 2021 season September 4th against Arizona in the Nacuas’ hometown of Las Vegas.