PROVO — A nervous Isaiah Nacua made his way to BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s office in late January unsure of what the outcome would be. What he expected was a tough conversation with a stern coach who wasn’t exactly pleased with what had transpired between the two over the last year and half.
No, this wouldn’t be the first time the two had met in Mendenhall’s office, and Isaiah was sincerely hoping it wouldn’t be the last.
The first meeting was a happy occasion for all involved.
That meeting occurred in June of 2012 when both Isaiah and his brother, Kai Nacua, made their way to Mendenhall’s office to formally accept scholarship offers granted both of them.
Kai, who is a year older than Isaiah, went on to hold his commitment and signed with BYU in 2013. As for Isaiah, who eventually ended up signing with BYU, it was far more complicated.
Upon committing to BYU, Isaiah began receiving a lot of interest, as top prospects often do. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman began hearing from most Pac-12 programs, including Arizona, Arizona State and Utah — all of whom eventually offered scholarships.
Isaiah, who has always been intent on doing things his own way, began to waffle on his BYU commitment as a result.
Doing as much didn’t sit well with his mother, Penina, but wasn’t unexpected.
“Of all my boys, Isaiah is the one who is a bit of a knucklehead,” Penina said. “He’s a middle child and has always been intent on figuring things out on his own and doing it his way no matter what we say. He brushes off what we tell him all the time and just has to do things his way. It’s just the way he is.”
Isaiah’s waffling certainly didn’t sit well with Mendenhall either, who called Isaiah into his office a few months later to level with him.
“He wasn’t happy with me,” Isaiah recalled. “I wasn’t being honest with BYU. I wasn’t telling them the truth and so we sat down and I was told that I was now undeclared with them, as far as they were concerned.”
According to Isaiah, that meeting with Mendenhall stung him, more than expected, but also set him on the path of wanting BYU for himself and not because of what others wanted for him.
The impetus placed on BYU for both Kai and Isaiah came as a result of their father's wish. The now deceased Lionel Nacua took his two eldest sons to a BYU camp right before his death and determined he'd do everything possible to have his sons join coach Mendenhall's program soon after.
After his death, Penina was determined to honor her late husband's wish for her sons.
Mothers know their kids better than anyone, and even though Isaiah had committed to BYU, she knew that commitment may not last. As mothers often are regarding their sons, she was right.
“It’s hard because you see what’s best for your kids, but I know Isaiah doesn’t like being pushed, so I stepped back and just prayed he’d figure things out for himself,” Penina said. “Even though he’s my tough child, he’s a great kid with a great heart.”
Shortly following Lionel’s death, the family decided to move from Las Vegas to Provo, which wasn’t an easy thing and something Penina describes as a “roller coaster of emotion” for all of them.
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