1 of 10
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Hunter Hill holds a Utah State sign as Orem High School athletes sign their letters of intent during a signing ceremony in Orem on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Both Hill and Cooper Legas signed with Utah State.

OREM — Orem High's signing day event in the school gymnasium Wednesday afternoon had banners, balloons, doughnuts and chocolate milk, students with a fun excuse to miss class, family members proudly sporting various college athletic gear and multiple talented athletes anxiously ready to put their signatures where their verbal commitments went.

It also had an air of mystery as one of the football team's best players had five hats from colleges across the country placed on the table in front of him before publicly declaring his choice.

Oh, the drama!

The fun event was missing something rather large, though.

Puka Nacua.

The state's most coveted player and one of the top recruits in the nation made a brief appearance in the gym but was conspicuously absent from the signing table.

The talented receiver, who previously committed to play for USC, decided to take more time to finalize his decision. The Trojans, Utah, Oregon and UCLA are among the schools that still have a shot.

Orem football coach Jeremy Hill said three late recruiting trips that Utah's Mr. Football took in the past couple of weeks "got his brain spinning a little bit." The 6-foot-2 receiver's mom, Penina Nacua, sent a text early Wednesday to Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson saying the family was holding off the announcement because they’ve been too busy with campus visits, all-star football games and life to thoroughly make the best decision.

"We need more time to break down the information and talk," Nacua's mom told Donaldson. "We’ve been too busy and unable to find quality time."

Nacua averaged 166.9 yards per game and scored 26 touchdowns as a senior while leading the Tigers to a second-straight 4A state championship. The Orem standout was co-MVP of the Polynesian Bowl and co-Polynesian player of the year with Alabama-bound Taulia Tagovailoa. He also played in the Army All-American Bowl.

It's no wonder why coaches hope to entice Nacua to sign with them and fans around the country are anxiously awaiting his decision.

"It’s tough. I wish him nothing but the best," Hill said. "I love him. I hope he comes to a decision quick, because whether it’s today or tomorrow or in a week, it doesn’t get any easier."

Hill, who had a neat day as a football coach and dad, speaks from experience. His son Hunter Hill, one of Orem's other highly regarded players, didn't make his final decision until this week and didn't announce it until Wednesday's signing event.

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Hill originally committed to Washington State last fall, but he backed down from that while also considering Utah State, Vanderbilt, Virginia and USC.

Hill's dad, a USU alum, couldn't have been prouder — and some people more surprised — when the big senior picked up and put on the Aggie ballcap that had been situated next to hats from the Pac-12, SEC and ACC programs.

Hill said his choice boiled down to two main factors: 1. Logan is "close to home;" and 2. "Playing for Coach (Gary) Andersen is huge." Though it was tough to turn down the other schools, it felt right. His coach/dad called it a "stressful blessing."

The younger Hill was in his dad's office before the announcement and asked, "Am I doing the right thing? I’m passing up USC. I’m passing up some phenomenal opportunities."

"Truthfully," Coach Hill said, "I think up top in the brain USC made sense with the football they have up there, with the education they have up there, the opportunities they have up there, but I think he let his heart make the choice."

And it's one neither Hill regrets.

Andersen began recruiting the powerful lineman when he was an assistant at Utah, and then Hill was honored to hear from him again when he was hired as Utah State's head coach for a second time.

"When he got the head-coaching job at Utah State, I was his first phone call," Hill said. "It’s a phenomenal coaching staff, and my dad played there. I’m super excited to be an Aggie this year."

He'll join Orem quarterback Cooper Legas at USU. The Tigers' playmaker committed to Andersen earlier this week, and made it clear his commitment was solid by wearing a Utah State Aggies hoodie to the signing event.

Four other Orem football players finalized their previously announced college commitments. Jake Pedersen and Ethan Slade will stay even closer to home to play for BYU, Fred Prescott is headed up to Utah and Rylen Su'a-Filo is off to Southern Utah.

Kadon Black (Hawaii-Hilo) and Amelia Harper (Rockford College) also signed to play college soccer.

9 comments on this story

Slade, a strong safety who plans on serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, committed to BYU on Monday afternoon. Though "super excited to be a Cougar," Slade and Cooper have talked about playing together in college for years, so that part is a bit bittersweet. Not enough to ruin his day, though.

"I wanted to go to the next level with him, but some things don’t work out," Slade said. "We’ll always be best friends."

Slade admitted he knew where Hill was headed but claims Nacua's status is still up in the air. He would love if his high school teammate pulled a surprise and committed to BYU.

"That would be amazing to play with him," Slade said, "but wherever he goes I'll be happy for him."