Ever since he transferred from Utah to rival BYU last March, receiver Samson Nacua has pictured in his mind how his first big play for the Cougars against the Utes will go this Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
Particularly, Nacua, who is a graduate transfer using his last season of eligibility, has found himself wondering what kind of reception he will get from the thousands of Utah fans who will be in attendance.
“Man, I hope I get a big cheer, because it was not easy making the decision, for sure, leaving my teammates up there,” Nacua said Wednesday in a Zoom meeting with reporters. “I hope they still got love for me because I still got so much love for them left in my heart and I just want a big cheer. If not, it is all good. I still got love for them and that will never change. I am thankful for them always.”
On the other sideline, former BYU defensive lineman Devin Kaufusi will return to LES for the first time decked in red, having transferred to Utah in April 2020 after participating in spring practices at BYU and telling the Deseret News at the time, “I just felt like that for me personally, I could be a better football player somewhere else.”
Nacua’s reasons for leaving the U. after walking on there in 2016 and eventually earning a scholarship are much different. Along with his younger brother Puka, who transferred to BYU from Washington, he wanted to be closer to some ailing family members in his hometown of Provo.
Wednesday, Samson had nothing but love for his former school and teammates, even if the Utes are a touchdown favorite and will be looking for their 10th straight win over the Cougars.
“I want everyone to succeed in this life, whether we are on the same team or not,” he said. “I want you to be happy and succeed in your life and be happy with yourself and your family. I don’t got time to hate them or wish them losing. I just hope the best team that prepares (the best) will come out and win, and that is how it will be.”
Will the Nacua brothers play?
Both dressed for BYU’s 24-16 win over Arizona last week, but neither lined up from scrimmage on offense. Samson got in for one play and recovered an onside kick.
“I am expecting to play every week, honestly,” Samson said when he was asked if he was expecting to play. “It is always up to the coaches if they feel I am ready to (play). I have had minor issues in the past, but I feel 100%. I have been going all week this week and I am just ready to rock. Whenever they call my number, I am just ready to play for them.”
Fellow receiver Neil Pau’u also spoke to the media Wednesday and said he expects “all the guys back” with the exception of Gunner Romney, who sustained an injury in the first quarter against Arizona and who coach Kalani Sitake said Monday was “doubtful.”
“I think (the offense) will run a little smoother and we will be able to connect on more plays,” Pau’u said.
Samson Nacua still wears No. 45, the number he wore at Utah when he caught 82 passes for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns. He found it difficult to describe what the transition to BYU has been like, but said he has no regrets now and won’t after the game, win or lose.
“I have been in red and I have heard the thunder over there and I have felt like what it felt like to play in red and I loved every moment of it,” he said. “And now I am starting to get to experience a little bit of the blue. Honestly, I can say I love both of these teams. I am so thankful for both of them taking their chances on me and accepting me for me, and I don’t know if I love one more than another.”
Samson caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jason Shelley in Utah’s 35-27 win over BYU in 2018, and could make even more rivalry lore with a TD grab Saturday.
“Honestly, being here at BYU right now, it feels perfect, and being back there at Utah felt perfect at the time,” he said. “Everything is falling into place.”
Of course, Samson has only been on the BYU side a few months, but he says the schools’ approaches to the rivalry game are similar.
“This game has definitely got a little bit more juice to it. Everyone takes this to a T,” he said. “You have got Utah State over there, the little brothers, the third wheel right there. But the main focus is between BYU and Utah. Both of the teams know it. Both of the teams prepare like we are the best in the state. I love the intensity of it. I don’t think there is any drop-off from one school to the other. Everyone comes and knows what is on the line and is ready to play some ball.”
Samson said he’s texted all week with former teammates who have promised him the Utes will be ready, even if Utah coach Kyle Whittingham downplayed the rivalry at the Pac-12’s media day, referring to it as the “in-state game” and talking instead about growing rivalries with USC and Arizona State — BYU’s opponent next week.
“They are saying they have been more excited to play in this game than any other game, and I just told them I was the same way,” he said. “There is just more energy in the air; everything is a bit more exciting.”
And a bit more intriguing, thanks to Utes like Samson Nacua turning blue and Cougars like Devin Kaufusi turning red.