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He’s really competitive and works extremely hard and plays fast. He has great hands. He’s going to help us a great deal this year. I'm excited to see what he can do. —Guy Holliday

SALT LAKE CITY — Samson Nacua has drawn some pretty strong praise, thus far, as the 25th-ranked Utah Utes prepare for the upcoming season. He’s catching some serious attention at wide receiver.

“I’ve mentioned him from day one,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s been one of the more pleasant surprises in camp, one of the most improved players in camp.”

Nacua, a former Timpview High star, has made great strides after redshirting in 2016. He credits wide receivers coach Guy Holliday, as well as players like Tim Patrick, Raelon Singleton, Siaosi Wilson and Darren Carrington II, for helping him get better.

In his bid to get on the field this season, Nacua said he has worked hard on his routes and footwork over the past year.

“I’m just trying to come out and make plays,” he added.

Nacua’s determination to show what he’s been working on doesn’t surprise Holliday.

“He’s really competitive and works extremely hard and plays fast,” said the coach. “He has great hands. He’s going to help us a great deal this year. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Nacua is part of a revitalized Utah receiving corps. New offensive coordinator Troy Taylor is charged with establishing a more effective passing game. The Utes have struggled with throwing the ball in recent years.

The scheme isn’t the only change taking place. Nacua said the position group also has a different vibe.

“There is. I don’t know if there’s more playmakers or everyone’s just working a lot harder than we did last year,” he noted. “I don’t know what it is but you can definitely feel the difference from last year’s receiving corps and this year. Maybe it’s we bond a lot more together and everyone is just really pushing each other to work harder.”

Nacua has the background for it. Older brother, Kai, was a defensive standout at BYU before moving on to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns this year.

“He’s a tough kid. I don’t know Kai very well. I didn’t watch all their games,” Whittingham said. “But I know it’s a very athletic family. I can tell you that and Samson is very tough.

“He’s not the biggest guy. He still needs to put on some weight. He’s on the thin side but he’s competitive,” Whittingham continued. “He’s got a lot of natural knack for the receiver position. When we first recruited him we toyed with him maybe being a safety and it was shortly thereafter that we decided that maybe he’s better suited at wide receiver and he’s really taken to that. That’s what he was best at in high school.”

At Timpview, where he played for Whittingham’s brother Cary, Nacua wound up with 2,000 career receiving yards and 106 receptions.

As for following in Kai’s footsteps at BYU, Samson said the Cougars stopped recruiting him when he was a junior. Morgan Scalley and the Utes kept calling and watching him play, however.

“BYU never really offered me, so I was like, dang, Utah is the way to go because that’s my only offer,” Nacua said. “So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go here.’”

The decision to wear red proved to be decisive when the Utes and Cougars met last season. Samson said he and Kai had a little beef and didn’t speak to one another when game week came around. They “didn’t say a word to each other.”

That, however, has changed since the household is no longer divided.

“This year he just hopes for the best for me,” Samson said.

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer