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Star receiver Puka Nacua accepts Senior Bowl invite, a signal that he plans to enter 2023 NFL draft

Former Orem High star and Washington transfer has not made an official announcement yet regarding his 2023 plans, but the Senior Bowl invite is the first step to the pros

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BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua catches a ball for a touchdown against the East Carolina Pirates in an NCAA college football game on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo, Utah. The Pirates won 27-24.

BYU receiver Puka Nacua catches a ball for a touchdown against East Carolina in Provo, Utah. On Monday, news broke that Nacua will be playing in the Senior Bowl, which signals it is unlikely Nacua will be returning to the Cougars in 2023.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

What has been assumed for months now was mostly confirmed Monday as BYU star receiver Puka Nacua accepted an invitation to play in the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl.

The news signals that Nacua is moving on to the professional ranks .

Nacua, who is in his fourth season of college football, but could return next year because the 2020 season doesn’t count due to COVID-19, told reporters last Wednesday that he hadn’t decided yet regarding his future.

However, he participated in BYU’s Senior Day activities after the Cougars’ 52-26 win over Utah Tech on Saturday and called the experience “a weird one” because of the uncertainty.

“I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to come to BYU and ... hopefully you can see I love playing football and being out here with my guys. BYU has been a huge blessing in my life.” — BYU receiver Puka Nacua

Monday’s announcement offers more evidence that the former Orem High star, who played his first two seasons at Washington, is headed to the NFL.

“Obviously, I can come back. So it didn’t really kind of hit me as if I was a senior. But it was great. I feel like I am an old guy on the team. But it has been fun,” Nacua said. “… I was blessed to be a team captain for these guys, and we have been going through it the past three months and we got two more left and we are going to finish it out, but man, it has been fun to be with all those guys.”

Nacua said interactions in the locker room, such as beating “everybody’s butt in ping pong,” are “the times I remember the most.”

He said seeing his family after the senior walk is “when it hit me more” that he had played his final game at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to come to BYU and as you can see, hopefully you can see I love playing football and being out here with my guys,” he said. “BYU has been a huge blessing in my life.”

Nine other receivers have accepted Senior Bowl invitations. The Senior Bowl is Feb. 4 in Mobile, Alabama.

Also Monday, the 12 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the top receiver in the country, were released and Nacua was not on the list.

Due to an ankle injury, he has played in only eight of BYU’s 11 games. He has 45 catches for 592 yards and five touchdowns. He has 22 carries for 171 yards.

The Cougars (6-5) became bowl eligible with the win over Utah Tech and will finish the regular season on Saturday at Stanford (3-8). Kickoff is at 9 p.m. MST and the game will be televised by Fox Sports 1.

Asked if he will play in the Cougars’ bowl game, Nacua nodded affirmatively.

“I think that’s the plan,” he said. “I haven’t really got a chance to look at it. But that’s a game scheduled for the Cougars, and that is a game I will be playing in.”

BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua scores on BYU’s first play from scrimmage in BYU’s 2022 season opener against USF.

BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua scores on BYU’s first play from scrimmage in BYU’s season opener against USF, Saturday, September 3 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It was announced Monday that Nacua will be playing in the Senior Bowl.

Robert W. Grover, for the Deseret News