Nacua breaks 60 year old record to finish special season

It was the fall of 2017, and Orem High School faced off against Salem Hills High School. Puka Nacua, a junior at the time, executed an 80-yard go route for a touchdown in a dominant victory for the Tigers. It was one of the many remarkable plays Nacua showcased during his high school career, and it happened to be the first one I witnessed live. I also recall facing him in basketball, an experience that was no easy task, especially with his high-flying finishes at the basket.

Back then, Nacua was the number one recruit in Utah according to 247 Sports and ultimately committed to the University of Washington after his impressive high school tenure. Hailing from an exceptionally athletic family, he was recognized as a special athlete with significant potential.

But did anyone truly grasp how exceptional Nacua was back then? Nope! That’s what has made Nacua’s rookie season so extraordinary.

Nacua, a four-star recruit from Orem High School, initially committed to USC in 2018 before later switching and signing with the Huskies in February 2019. However, his first two seasons at Washington were unremarkable. After accumulating only 11 receptions in two seasons, Nacua transferred back to BYU following the Huskies’ shortened 2020 season due to COVID-19. Two seasons later at BYU, he entered the 2023 NFL Draft and was selected as the 177th pick in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Rams.

Nacua’s journey, given his high school stardom, was anything but standard, but he has taken the NFL and the nation by storm, earning the nickname “Puka Doncic” from none other than LeBron James.

The last time a BYU athlete garnered this much attention from a sports icon was Jimmer Fredette, a six foot guard from Glens Falls, New York, who won the 2011 Naismith Player of the Year award.

Nacua, a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft, has become the best rookie receiver in NFL history. While their superstardom is similar, the key difference is that Nacua is achieving it on the NFL’s biggest stage.

During his two seasons at BYU, Nacua played 21 games, catching 91 passes for 1,430 yards. Although he was not the same college sensation as Jimmer Mania, his rookie season has positioned him on a trajectory few Cougar athletes have reached at the professional level. Can Nacua attain the greatness of Steve Young and Danny Ainge? It will require more than one unique season, but Nacua has made a promising start by breaking multiple NFL rookie receiving records.

In a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Nacua needed just four receptions and 29 yards to break both records. He achieved the feat, recording his 105th reception of the season and surpassing Jaylen Waddle’s rookie reception record set in 2021.

He also totaled 1,486 receiving yards this season, surpassing Bill Gromans’s 1,473 receiving yards set in 1960.

For Nacua, the culmination of this special season happened off the field when he shared a moment with his mother and gave her the record-breaking ball.

“That was super sweet… I saw my mom at the beginning of the game, and we were able to have a moment. It hit me early in the game… I’m glad my family was here to experience it with me,” Nacua said in his postgame availability.

During his four-year college career, Nacua totaled 107 receptions at Washington and BYU, gaining 1,749 total receiving yards across 32 games. His rapid rise to becoming one of the game’s best receivers in his first professional year is a surprise to even the most discerning NFL talent evaluators or BYU fans. If Nacua maintains this pace, he will likely surpass his entire college production in far fewer games by early next season.

Nacua transitioned from being a good receiver in BYU’s offense under Coach Aaron Roderick to an elite receiver in the Shannahan system run by Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay.

“Really happy for Puka Nacua… for him to break both of those records is such a credit to this team,” said McVay. “But also his consistency and his body of work over a 17-game season.”

For Nacua, finding that consistency and playing in all 17 games was an achievement in itself, especially considering the minor injuries he sustained at BYU that kept him out of multiple games. With a physically imposing style that involves a significant amount of after-the-catch play, Nacua’s approach puts him at risk of injuries.

This season, Nacua recorded 627 yards after the catch and a league-leading 308 yards after contact—skills he demonstrated at BYU that seamlessly translated to the NFL.

It would be easy to tie the bow on this season for Nacua, there’s still much more football to be played for him and the Rams. Nacua’s performance this season sparked a resurgence for the Los Angeles Rams, who are set to play against Detroit in the NFL’s Wild Card round on Sunday. With a healthy Stafford and the dynamic receiving duo of Cooper Kupp and Nacua, the Rams are a significant threat in the NFC.

One thing is certain—everyone will be watching and cheering for the NFL’s most heartwarming and surprising story this season: Puka Nacua.

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