Everybody in life, whether it’s in sports or not, just goes through different experiences, and I think Orem was the best fit for me, and now we’re here playing for a state championship. —Puka Nacua
OREM — In the age of the spread offense, it’s hard to believe that Richie Geertsen’s state record for receiving yards has held firm for 26 years.
The Logan receiver set the record with 1,769 yards back in 1989, and no one’s really come close to breaking it. Brighton’s Simi Fehoko came relatively close with 1,644 yards in 2014, but only one other receiver has come within 200 yards in the past two and a half decades.
That is until this year.
Orem receiver Puka Nacua heads into Friday’s 4A championship game with 1,616 receiving yards this season, which ranks third in state history. With a big game against Mountain Crest, he might dethrone Geertsen’s mark.
Nacua isn’t concerned with records heading into the big game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and said the only number he’s focused on this week is, “one. Just one more win,” he said.
Nacua is closing in on the single-season receiving touchdowns record as well. He’s hauled in 23 TDs this year, one shy of the 24 that Fehoko grabbed in 2014.
Nacua had two touchdowns called back in last week’s semifinal win over Sky View because of penalties on the offensive line, but he still caught a second half TD to keep his streak alive of scoring in every game he’s played this season.
The junior missed two games with an injury earlier this season, which makes his year’s per-game average even more ridiculous.
“He’s definitely a kid I couldn’t live without,” said Orem coach Jeremy Hill.
How teams defend Nacua dictates how Orem’s offense attacks other teams.
“He’s going to get his whether he has one guy, two guys, three guys on him. But it’s nice because, if they press him, we kind of laugh, we check to a go, and 85 percent of the time he catches it for a big gain,” said Hill. “If they double him and triple him, we laugh too because I have some phenomenal tight ends and receivers that are now getting one-on-one matchups.”
Nacua’s appearance in Friday’s championship game will continue the tradition of Nacuas playing for state championships. In every high school football season from 2011 to 2015, one of Nacua’s older brothers played for a state championship — including two in the 2012 Nevada state championship, in which Kai Nacua’s Liberty team lost to Isaiah Nacua’s Bishop Gorman team.
Six months before that brotherly showdown, their father, Lionel Nacua, died unexpectedly at 45.
His death prompted a family move back to Utah the following summer. Isaiah Nacua won a state championship with Timpview during his senior season in 2013, and, a year later, Samson Nacua won a title with Timpview in 2014 — before losing in the 2015 title game.
Puka Nacua never envisioned himself following in his older brothers' footsteps.
When he moved to Utah during the summer before his seventh-grade year, the first friend he made was Hunter Hill, who was also about to start seventh grade. Hill’s dad was an Orem assistant coach at the time and also coached Orem’s little league team, which Nacua wanted to play on.
Nacua and Hill were pretty inseparable during that 2013 summer, whether it was playing video games or out playing football. Nacua started hanging out with more and more of Hill’s friends that summer and then throughout the football season — and it’s been that way for the past five years.
“Everybody in life, whether it’s in sports or not, just goes through different experiences, and I think Orem was the best fit for me, and now we’re here playing for a state championship,” said Nacua.
Last weekend Nacua’s older brother Samson, who plays for the University of Utah, offered him some advice about this weekend’s game.
“Samson came home after their game at Washington State, and he said, ‘I know this is your first one and you’ll be in a little bit of shock and it will be crazy for you, but you’re a leader on your team. You’ve got to keep your emotions under control to help everyone else a lot more calm,’” said Nacua.
His presence is a steadying force on the field for Orem always, and another big game could lead to Orem’s first state title since 1994.