By: Logan Newman, USA TODAY High School Sports | November 30, 2018
Four-star USC commit WR Puka Nacua didn’t expect to get the call from the All-American Bowl offering him a spot in the game.
“It was a little bit of shock but after it clicked in my brain that I was going to be able to play in the Army All-American bowl, my body was just overfilled with joy and excitement,” he said. “This is the No. 1 bowl to play in, this is the best of the best.”
Suprised? Even after a record-setting 2,336 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns this season?
“I got invited, I think, maybe midseason or a little bit before season, so I hadn’t fully reached my goals yet,” Nacua said with a laugh. “I know what I’m capable of, but to be invited to this is still an honor and a blessing.”
He received his All-American Bowl jersey Thursday at his school as part of the All-American Bowl Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance.
Nacua attended the combine last year during the All-American Bowl and got to watch the elite high school seniors of 2018 play, including current USC wide receiver and soon-to-be-teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown.
There’s no question Nacua belongs with the crowd. A year after tallying 1,692 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns on 84 receptions, Nacua came into the year vying for the 100-reception, 2,000-yard mark.
But more importantly, he wanted to win another championship.
“If (the records) would have never came and we would have won back-to-back .. I would have been just as happy as if I had broke all the records,” he said.
Orem High School (Utah) did just that, with Nacua setting the state record in touchdowns with a nine-catch, 182-yard, two-TD performance to put him at 26 on the year.
His 2,336 single-season receiving yards ranks No. 5 all-time nationally, according to the AAB.
While some players rack up numbers against low-level competition or lower conferences, Nacua put up dominant performances against elite teams. In addition to the championship victory, he put up Madden-like numbers against out-of-state teams Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman (10 receptions, 260 yards, three touchdowns) and California’s Santa Margarita (16 receptions, 321 yards, three touchdowns).
Nacua said coaches helped him develop his footwork, a skill that he had lacked.
“(I’m) lengthier and my footwork has never been that good,” he said. “I’ve got size 14 feet so my feet always were big and then my steps were never correct, so just getting the timing down right and being able to make sure my steps were down, and just being as precise as I can in my routes to get open.”
One of these coaches will be attending the All-American Bowl with him.
Orem head coach Jeremy Hill was invited to be one of 16 coaches at the game.
— Jeremy Hill (@jdhill72) November 27, 2018
“He’s been coaching me for the last six years, ever since I moved to Utah,” Nacua said. “He has a son that’s my age, so that’s like my other brother and we’ve just grown a great relationship.”
It’ll be one last game with Hill before Nacua goes to USC.
His mother grew up in Orange County and he said he got a good feel from the school.
Nacua can showcase his vast array of talents as he tries to help the Trojans re-establish their identity.
“I go get the jump ball, I run the easy routes, run the routes over the middle,” Nacua said. “I really worked on not just focusing on one thing but becoming great at everything that a receiver needs to be. My game is a little bit of everything.”
The All-American Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 5 in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas and will be televised live on NBC at 1 p.m. EST.