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SALT LAKE CITY — Puka Nacua's college decision changed dramatically in the last several days, when he decided against finalizing last year's commitment to USC and re-opened his recruiting.
The state's top-rated high school football recruit's decision was made more dramatic by a snowstorm Sunday night.
Set to announce his commitment live on KSL TV, Nacua and his mom Penina were concerned about the incoming snowstorm that blanketed the Wasatch Front with a fresh set of powder around 6 p.m. MST.
It made traveling from their home in Utah County treacherous. It made them re-consider the decision to announce the decision on live television.
"The snow made it a little worse, because I had more time to think about it," Nacua told KSL.com. "I was in the car for a long time, and had to look at Twitter.
"It was crazy."
But in the end, it all worked out.
Nacua put on a Washington hat, flashed a "W" in photos with family, friends, his older brother Samson who plays at Utah, and Orem head coach Jeremy Hill and several teammates.
Nacua will be a Husky, after all — despite the Trojans' advances, as well as others from Oregon, Utah, BYU and a wide assortment of other schools.
There was only one problem: he forgot to tell Chris Peterson, the sixth-year head coach at the University of Washington. Before Nacua could walk off the KSL TV studio set, with his picture frames in one arm, his siblings around him, and a purple lei still hanging around his neck, Coach Pete was in his ear.
Nacua answered the phone, making the line of family and friends wait.
"Yes, coach," he said. "I'm a Dawg, coach."
The move, perhaps, isn't a surprise to many. Nacua has been publicly leaning toward the Huskies for several weeks, if you believe several theories promulgating the internet.
But the move makes sense. He'll join a roster that features 15 wide receivers, but few that have proven themselves at the Division I level — and he'll have an ally in Ty Jones, the Provo High product who hosted Nacua on his recruiting visit.
Jones, a 6-foot-4, 209-pound big-bodied receiver, caught 31 passes for 491 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore in 2018 with the Huskies.
"I think Puka is the kind of guy who can go to U-dub and just start right off the bat," said former BYU receiver Ross Apo, the founder of Make It Look Easy WR training, who also coached BYU-bound wide out Chase Roberts from American Fork, among others. "He's really polished at route running; coaches try to grill him with questions, and he comes back with the correct answers. His IQ for the game is so much higher than a normal guy, and he’s already running NFL routes."
All them hours of repetitive drill work & tiring workouts finally paid off! You EARNED every ounce of your success. Congrats (@AsapPuka) @CoachPeteUW & The Huskies landed a different breed of athlete & a great person💯 #UW#ItsEZpic.twitter.com/hJY5tCRdOL— Ross Apo (@RossApo1_MILEWR) February 11, 2019
The Huskies only signed one other wide receiver, but with Nacua's commitment surged to the No. 16 recruiting class in the nation, according to 247 Sports.
After eschewing both the early signing period and the traditional National Signing Day to take several more visits and consider his decision with family and friends, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver who ranks No. 22 nationally by 247 Sports, saw his recruiting and social media blow up.
For good reason; Nacua led the nation in receiving, with 166.9 yards per game and 26 total touchdowns, and rewrote the Utah High School Activities Association record book.
A lot of schools wanted his services.
In the end, Washington is the one that will get him, and he'll join former Utah high school football standouts Jones and MJ Tafisi of Alta in suiting up for the Huskies next year.
And what a player they are getting, Hill said.
"They're getting a kid who loves the game," Hill told KSL.com. "He loves to compete. He’s a special talent, the way he can jump, run, the routes he runs, the intellect. I’ve never seen a kid with body control like he has. He can high-point a ball like no one I’ve ever seen. They’re getting a special player."
The Gatorade Utah player of the year and Deseret News Mr. Football held offers from Washington, Oregon, UCLA, USC, Utah and BYU, among others. Nacua committed to the Trojans last summer, but found his recruiting interest drawing even more attention as he continued his historic senior season.
The younger brother of former BYU safety Kai Nacua and Utah receiver Samson Nacua went on to lead the Tigers to back-to-back Class 4A state titles for the first time in school history. He also set Utah High School Activities Association records for touchdown receptions in a season (26), receiving yards in a season (2,336), career receiving yards (5,270), career touchdown receptions (59) and career receptions (261).
But Nacua was just getting started.
He went on to star in two postseason all-star games, first making highlight-reel plays at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio that included a 20-yard fourth-down pass. Nacua went to the Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii, where he hooked up with future BYU quarterback Jacob Conover on a toe-tapping touchdown at Aloha Stadium, and earned Polynesian Bowl co-offensive player of the year honors.
That all prompted Nacua to re-investigate his own recruiting.
He took a visit to Utah, stayed in contact with BYU (the campus is a few miles away from his house), and planned trips to Oregon, UCLA, and to USC, among others.
But Washington left a special impression on him. It also left a special impression on his mother, who posed for photos with her son wearing purple-and-black Husky gear.
University of Washington 😈 pic.twitter.com/p8tBaInI2t— Puka Nacua (@AsapPuka) January 29, 2019
"I was so in-between, because I really liked Oregon and Utah," Nacua said. "I was split, but I felt like Washington was the best place for me."
In the end, the decision wasn't much of a surprise; Nacua admitted he and his mother felt at peace with his decision Saturday, though second thoughts did cross his mind when he woke up Sunday morning.
Perhaps a conversation with his high school coach before they left for the Triad Center in downtown Salt Lake City helped, then.
The biggest advice was that there was no wrong choice.
"He's got so many phenomenal schools to choose, and he’s such a great young player that he will be successful where ever he goes," Hill said. "It was just trying to find the right fit.
"I’m absolutely happy for him. I think he made a phenomenal choice."
Of course, Sunday won’t be the last day Nacua plays in the state of Utah. The Huskies play at BYU on Sept. 21, and will host the Utes on Nov. 2.
Oh, and Nacua still has to finish out the season with Orem’s basketball team. The senior recently rejoined the program after his recruiting and all-star game circuit, averaging 12.9 points and 5.1 assists in the past seven games.
The Tigers (15-4, 9-0 Region 10) hosts Lehi at 7 p.m. MT Tuesday.
Nacua will suit up for that game, and he'll have a recruiting decision completely off his mind.
In the end, he knows he couldn't make a bad decision. Now, that decision is finally made.
"I get to go play football at Division I and continue my education," Nacua said. "It was really hard to say there was a bad choice. But there is definitely a place for me, and I feel like that is Washington."