It’s not often that a team’s leading wide receiver wants to enter the transfer portal.
And yet, Puka Nacua — who led Washington wideouts in catches (9), receiving yards (151) and touchdowns (1) last season, despite missing the Stanford game after testing positive for COVID-19 — made his intentions clear on Sunday, confirming to The Times that he’s headed out of town.
In a tweet on Monday, Nacua thanked Husky Nation “for accepting me and being a part of this chapter in my life. Memories and relationships made here will last a lifetime.”
And yet, Nacua’s Husky career lasted just two seasons and 11 total games. On Monday evening, he announced on Instagram that he and his brother — Utah senior wide receiver Samson Nacua — would both be transferring to BYU.
So, what spurred Puka’s decision to take his talents to his hometown of Provo, Utah?
“It definitely was not an easy choice,” Nacua said in an interview on 950 AM KJR on Monday afternoon. “It definitely was not how I planned things out in my head for my future here at UW. But some family issues came up and some stuff with my family where I know I need to be there to support my family and help them out in the best way. That’s how I came to my conclusion in entering the portal.”
When pushed further on whether this was purely a family decision, Nacua added: “Yeah, definitely. I got to play as a freshman. I still remember my first touchdown and the energy I felt in Husky Stadium. Every time I think about it, I still get juiced, just thinking about it. Definitely, (wide receivers coach Junior) Adams and (head coach Jimmy) Lake have been good to me — especially coach Adams. He’s the coach I came in with.
“With all the coaches that have come in — coach JD (offensive coordinator John Donovan) this year — and especially the shift in energy that was coming with coach Lake, this is not how I wanted it to go. But family has always been something … I wouldn’t be anywhere without them, so I need to take care of them.”
A 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior, Nacua declined to divulge the specifics of his family situation — saying only that “it’s a decision I had to make, and it definitely wasn’t an easy one. But I know taking care of my family is always going to be the right decision.” His father, Lionel Nacua, died suddenly on May 14, 2012, after a lifelong battle with diabetes. Puka’s mother, Penina, proceeded to raise five sons and a daughter by herself.
Last month, Puka’s older brother — Utah senior wide receiver Samson Nacua — entered the transfer portal as well. And, considering the family hails from Provo, Utah, and another brother — San Francisco 49ers safety Kai Nacua — starred at BYU, it shouldn’t be surprising that both committed to the Cougars.
But what does the future hold for the Husky wide receivers? After Nacua, Ty Jones (Fresno State) and Jordan Chin (Sacramento State) each entered the transfer portal this offseason, UW’s depth may appear increasingly depleted.
Still, Nacua is encouraged by the receivers in the room.
“I’m really excited for those guys. I know coach Adams is going to get those guys prepared,” he said. “I know Terrell Bynum has been waiting his time for his breakout year. I’m excited for TB. The freshman class, I’m excited for those guys too. Husky Nation got a little (taste) of those guys in the Stanford game, with Jalen (McMillan) and Rome (Odunze). But Sawyer (Racanelli) is going to be in there too, and there’s always AO (Austin Osborne) and Spike (Marquis Spiker).
“It’s a good room. I loved being a part of those guys and getting to compete all the time. They’re all great, crafty football players who all succeed in their own different ways. So it’s been great to learn from those guys and watch those guys work.”
Now, Puka Nacua will be watching from a distance.
But what would he say to recruits — especially wide receivers — who are considering UW?
“I definitely would say, ‘Don’t hesitate,’ ” Nacua said. “Coach Adams is one of the best in the business. And coach Lake, with the way he competes and wants everybody to compete, and holds a high standard for the team, it’s a recipe for success, for sure.”