Despite appearing in just three of four games in the abbreviated 2020 season, Puka Nacua led all Washington wide receivers in catches (9), receiving yards (151) and touchdowns (1).
That production just entered the transfer portal.
Nacua — a 6-foot-1, 210-pound wideout from Provo, Utah — plans to conclude his college career elsewhere, he confirmed Sunday. He declined to comment further on the reasons for his departure.
Nacua is the third UW wide receiver to enter the transfer portal this offseason, joining Ty Jones (Fresno State) and Jordan Chin (Sacramento State). In 11 career games in Seattle, the former four-star recruit and USC commit totaled 16 catches, 319 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Nacua’s older brother, Utah wide receiver Samson Nacua, entered the transfer portal last month. Their older brother, San Francisco 49ers safety Kai Nacua, starred collegiately at BYU — which could double as a likely landing place for Puka and Samson.
Of course, Puka’s stay in Seattle also got off to a dramatic start. The blue-chip recruit waited until five days after National Signing Day to announce he’d sign with Washington, and arrived late to the announcement at a local television station after a snowstorm swept through northern Utah and made it difficult to drive.
But, for Washington, Nacua was worth the wait. In a prolific prep career at Orem High School, Puka broke Utah state records for career receptions (260), career receiving yards (5,226), career receiving touchdowns (58), single-season receptions (103), single-season receiving yards (2,336) and single-season receiving touchdowns (26). He was named a MaxPreps and USA Today first-team All-American and the 2018 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year, and was ranked as the No. 8 wide receiver nationally and No. 48 overall prospect in the 2019 class by 247Sports.
So, yes, that’s a lot of potential — and production — to replace.
“I’m just excited,” Puka said in May 2019, shortly before enrolling as a true freshman at UW. “Every time I think about going to play college football and getting a chance to play at a university like Washington with the success they’ve been having lately, I just get excited.
“I’m heading up in about a month. It’s almost literally one month away, which brings tears when I think about it, because this is what I’ve been working for all my life. I’ve got to continue to work. I’m ready to prove myself up at UW.”
Without Nacua, UW’s young receivers must promptly prove themselves. The Huskies are projected to have nine scholarship wide receivers when they kick off against Montana on Sept. 4: senior Terrell Bynum, juniors Marquis Spiker and Austin Osborne, sophomore Taj Davis, redshirt freshmen Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Sawyer Racanelli and Ja’Lynn Polk, and incoming freshman Jabez Tinae. Of that group, only Bynum has entered the end zone in his Husky career.
While a combined five UW wide receivers and quarterbacks have entered the transfer portal this offseason, the Huskies are set to return every scholarship player at the offensive line, running back and tight end positions — which could speak to the Huskies’ run-first philosophy. Following a season-opening win over Oregon State last November that included 51 running plays and just 24 passes, Husky head coach Jimmy Lake wore a hat with four bolded words — “RUN THE DAMN BALL” — to his weekly news conference.
The transfer portal has also worked both ways for Washington. Wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk announced his transfer to UW last month — after registering 28 catches, 264 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 10 games as a true freshman at Texas Tech in 2020.
The question is which Washington quarterback will target Polk — not Nacua — in 2021. A competition between returning starter Dylan Morris, graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien and five-star freshman Sam Huard will commence this spring. In UW offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Donovan’s first season at the helm, his Huskies finished third in the Pac-12 in yards per pass attempt (8.2), fifth in passing offense (226.5 yards per game) and seventh in completion percentage (61.3%).
But, of UW’s nine remaining scholarship wide receivers, six — Bynum, Spiker, Osborne, Odunze, McMillan and Tinae — were once considered four-star recruits.
The talent is still there.
Nacua is not.