Puka Nacua: This Rookie Deserves a Cookie

The accomplishments and trials of the NFL’s favorite rookie.

 Oxford Languages defines the word determined as “having made a firm decision and being resolved not to change it.”

     Makea “Puka” Nacua is the very embodiment of this word. Throughout the ups and downs of life, he has stayed determined and goal-oriented. He has broken record after record in high school, college, and now in the National Football League (NFL). 

     Football has been a part of Nacua’s life since the day he was born. His parents, Lionel and Penina Nacua, made sure that their six boys and one daughter knew all about the sport that they loved. Nacua is the second youngest boy in his family, which helped him become the tough wide receiver that he is today. 

      Penina said in an interview with the New York Post, “My husband loved defense; he loved having his boys hitting each other.” Penina continued, “He would have everybody suiting up and putting on the shoulder pads, and he’d make them go head-on, one-on-one. Whoever was the youngest was getting mauled, and that was Puka.”

      Growing up he would watch hours of film starring Lawrence Taylor and Troy Polamalu with his dad. Sadly, his dad passed away when Nacua was only 10 years old. However, his dad helped shape Nacua’s life by passing on his love of football to him. 

      Nacua attended Orem High School in Orem, Utah. He was determined to prove himself and to make varsity as a freshman, which he did. However, his real accomplishment occurred during his senior year of high school. He had 103 receptions, ran 2,336 yards and scored 26 touchdowns, setting the Utah records for most yards and touchdowns in a single high school season. These incredible stats lead him to being one of the five candidates for the All-USA Offensive Player of the Year award USA TODAY High School Sports. 

     Nacua also received the 2018-19 Gatorade Utah Football Player of the Year award. By earning this award he joined a very prestigious alumni association of Gatorade state winners which includes athletes like his teammate Mathew Strafford. Nacua was also chosen to be a part of the 2019 All-American Army Bowl. 

      Derek Campbell, head football coach of Payson High School, said, “Nacua is the best athlete to play in Utah high schools in a long time.” Payson High School is Orem High School’s rival but even their head coach can agree that Nacua is an exceptional athlete. 

     Even though Nacua was a hot shot in high school he still stayed humble. Not only did he maintain a 3.34 GPA but he was very involved in the community. He tutored special needs students and volunteered locally at youth sports programs and the Special Olympics. Although he did go through a frosted tips phase his senior year, we can not hold the unfortunate hair choice against him.

     Nacua committed to the University of Washington for football. At Washington, he battled having a broken foot and not getting the playing time he was expecting. He transferred two years later to Brigham Young University (BYU) to play football there with his older brother and to be closer to home. At some point, three of his brothers played football for BYU. At BYU, Nacua played 21 games and had a significant increase of receiving yards and touchdowns. 

     Nacua was picked in the 5th round of the professional NFL draft. The NFL draft has seven rounds, meaning that Nacua was not one of the first picks. He was drafted onto the Los Angeles Rams team, and to be perfectly honest, no one expected much from him. NFL analysts gave him a 5.80 score which is the average score for a backup player. 

     Even though no one expected him to be anything other than decent, Nacua was determined to do everything in his power to become the best player that he could become. Right after Nacua was drafted he asked his coaches if he could meet up with them to better understand McVay’s extremely complicated offense. He studied with raw determination, going so far as to even take a mandatory class that he had to pass. He stepped up and showed that although not much was expected of him, he belonged there. 

    His dedication paid off when in his first 2 career games he had 15 receptions and 25 catches which is the most ever by a rookie receiver. In addition, he surpassed the previous record by obtaining 1,486 yards and 105 receptions in his first season of playing professional football as a rookie wide receiver. However, he doesn’t care about his success, all he wants is for his team to win.      

     After he broke these incredible records he stated, “I can’t stop smiling!” he then laughed and continued, “It takes all 11 players, and they should all feel that reward just as much as I do.” 

     Nacua is also in the running for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The other candidate is C. J. Stroud has current odds of -3000 according to Sharp Football Analysis. Nacua has a +1800 which is a lower score than his opponents but Nacua has proved before that he is not to be underestimated. 

     Not only is he an incredibly hard worker but he is a genuinely good person which is a hard combination to find these days. His girlfriend Hallie Aiono is incredibly lucky to have such a great guy. Aiono and Nacua have been officially dating since 2022 when they posted their first Instagram together. 

   Nacua has worked constantly over the years to get where he is today, and he will continue to work to improve himself and his skills. His determination in every aspect of his life is awe-inspiring. 

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