It really helped me mature and realize that every decision I make, it will affect more than just me. – Kai Nacua said.

PROVO — As Kai Nacua entered the press room following his three-interception performance against Boise State, everyone heard the junior safety before seeing him. His teammate, safety Michael Wadsworth, was already at the podium answering questions when Nacua burst into the room shouting, "Wads! That's my boy, Wads!" before taking his spot on the podium.

At the podium, Nacua answered questions in a very loose and fun manner, giving the impression of someone who had recently been released from a lot of down time. An impression entirely in line of what he had experienced over the roughly eight months prior to Saturday's win over Boise State.

Most everyone knows about the incident by now. An ugly brawl at the end of the Miami Beach Bowl last December saw BYU and Memphis players exchanging blows with the blow Nacua dealt being perhaps the most prominent of all. ESPN cameras caught him blind-siding a Memphis player after his face had noticeably been gashed, an image that was shown over and over on SportsCenter and elsewhere.

Shortly following the game, Nacua experienced what he terms as his lowest point over the last eight months after seeing his blind-side hit caught on camera.

“I was humbled and, you know what? It happened,” Nacua recalled of his mindset at the time. “Everyone saw what happened and there’s no trying to fight it because it was all over TV. I just had to learn from it and try and show other guys there’s a certain way to react to something like that.”

Nacua's recompense for what he did began almost immediately. Performing acts of service, along with missing the first game of the 2015 season, was central with regards to making restitution for his actions against Memphis. “I just went around the community to find anything really,” Nacua said.

Through it all Nacua says he grew as a person while realizing his personal actions can refect on others, not just himself.

“It really helped me mature and realize that every decision I make, it will affect more than just me,” Nacua said. “It’s been really fun to show the coaches that I did learn from it and it’s time for me to step up in the role (coaches) need me to play.”

With the immediate low experienced shortly after the incident, Nacua experienced his share of highs, but none as bigger after his official punishment came to a conclusion.

“The high point for me was the day after the Nebraska game because I knew, boom, it’s back to game time,” Nacua said. “No more helping the offense on scout team, it’s time to get back and get our defense right for Boise.”

Getting the defense right is something he accomplished almost immediately. In the first half he intercepted a pass at the goaline that prevented a Boise State touchdown. The second half saw him pull down two more interceptions, one of which led to a Cougar touchdown while the other, well, he decided to take it all the way back to the end zone himself.

Beyond his impressive stats against the Broncos was an intangible influence on the entire defense, something teammates have come to expect and appreciate.

“It’s a big confidence builder knowing that he’s a playmaker and a very smooth athlete,” said linebacker Fred Warner. “We know whenever he’s back there, as a defense, that he’s going to do his job and his assignment.”

His teammates also recognize Nacua as someone who likes to loosen things up, whether it be in team meetings, practice sessions or in games.

“My main things is having fun because it can’t be serious all the time,” Nacua said. “You got to go out there and party, pretty much, is what I feel like. When you’re out there with your boys you can’t be like a robot. You got to be like yourself and that’s what I try to bring to the defense.”

Overall, what Nacua already was, and what he improved upon throughout the offseason, is someone players and coaches feel is a key ingredient to the team's success and representation as a program. All of what Nacua brings was on full display during BYU's win over the Broncos with the expectation of continued great play and representation of the program anticipated.

“Really, really happy for Kai Nacua and his return,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “The way he came back and reestablished himself on our team — I was really, really happy for him in that regard.”


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney