Samson Nacua’s football odyssey began years ago; it continues this week in the NFL
After turning heads on BYU’s pro day but going undrafted, the Colts inked Nacua to a free agent deal; this week he’ll be in Indianapolis for a two-day minicamp
It’s not quite the moon landing, but the next two days will be out of this world for Samson Nacua.
The former BYU and Utah receiver arrived in Indianapolis Thursday for his first minicamp as an undrafted free agent with the Colts. While there, under the watchful eye of head coach Frank Reich, Nacua will take his first “small steps” toward making a “giant leap” into the NFL.
His first objective is to make a good first impression.
“I want them to know I will do whatever they ask of me,” he told “BYU SportsNation” before his 6 a.m. flight to Indiana. “If they need me to go out there and catch a pass, I’ll do it. If they need me to go out there and block a defensive end, I’ll do it. If they need me to go play safety and tackle Tyler Allgeier, I’ll do it.”
Being a free agent is a familiar road for Nacua, who has walked this walk before.
“I was a walk-on at the University of Utah and earned my way from there and I earned my way to BYU. It wasn’t easy to get over here,” he said. “Now I have this camp invite as a free agent, or walk-on, it’s all the same to me. I’m ready to make my mark and ready to ball.”
Kai Nacua knows how tough it is to survive in the NFL, both on and off the field. The former BYU defensive back, and Samson’s older brother, was also an undrafted free agent. He signed with the Browns in 2017 and has since spent time between the practice squads and active rosters of the Browns, Ravens, Panthers, Colts, 49ers and is currently on the active roster of the Jets.
“He told me the biggest thing is keeping God first, family second and football third,” Samson said. “As he has jumped around from team to team, it has taken a toll, both mentally and physically. Being away from family and out on your own, you have to find peace with God and within yourself.”
Samson found peace, and reunited with his younger brother Puka, at BYU.
“God and my family helped me get to BYU,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision or an easy process to get here, but I made it. God helped with all of it and I’m so thankful for every opportunity He keeps giving me.”
Samson’s first impression at BYU came at the Cougars’ expense in 2018. As a receiver at Utah, he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jason Shelley in the Utes’ 35-27 come-from-behind victory in Salt Lake City.
His second impression, after graduating and transferring to BYU, was in the season opener last fall against Arizona in Las Vegas. Despite sitting out all but one play with a sore hamstring, Nacua was called on to field an onside kick attempt to preserve the 24-16 win at Allegiant Stadium.
After making the play, Nacua handed the ball over to the game official as BYU coach Kalani Sitake corralled him in a bear hug at the 40-yard line. His time in Provo and his tutelage from Sitake was underway.
Nacua’s third impression came during his BYU home opener the following week against Utah. In a pregame interview on BYUtv’s “Countdown to Kickoff” Nacua promised to catch a touchdown for his ailing grandmother during his first game in Provo against his former team.
His promise was fulfilled when Jaren Hall threw a two-yard strike to Nacua with four seconds remaining in the second quarter. The touchdown shook LaVell Edwards Stadium and put a smile on his grandmother’s face, who was watching the game on television at home.
Caught up in the moment, both Samson and Puka were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct during the celebration — something their coach, and grandmother, weren’t too happy about. Fortunately for the two playmakers, both Sitake and grandma were quick to forgive.
“Kalani’s belief in us was so high that it helped me play to a certain level,” Samson said. “It boosts you so much where you are feeling like you are a pro already. You feel so good, like ‘This is all so natural.’ It’s like ‘I’m not even thinking about football right now, I’m thinking about just having fun and doing what I’ve been doing my whole life.’”
Samson and Puka have been side by side their entire lives, but never on the football field, until the 2021 season at BYU.
With Puka transferring from Washington and Samson from Utah, the Nacua boys fulfilled the longtime dream of their late father Lionel, who passed away in 2012.
“The whole season was like a dream to me, like a movie,” Samson said. “Every time I got to line up or even stand on the sideline watching Puka, or just seeing my little brother doing these crazy things right next to me, and sometimes me making a play right next to him. I mean, man, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Samson caught 21 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns during BYU’s 10-3 season. He also rushed seven times for 29 yards and a touchdown. Puka, a sophomore, caught 43 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed 14 times for 148 yards.
“It all played out perfectly. It was just like a movie — the whole season with the team, the fans and the coaches. It was just like a movie.”
The two brothers made program history against Virginia as each finished with 107 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Samson’s ride in Provo wasn’t always smooth because he was admittedly a little rough around the edges. But his passion and fire were constantly on display, even when things didn’t go so well.
Samson fumbled on BYU’s final drive at the Independence Bowl at UAB’s 28-yard line with 3:36 to go. The Cougars never saw the ball again in a stunning 31-28 defeat.
As movies go, that qualifies as horror film. But for Samson, his final act at BYU was still to come.
Scouts or representatives from 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams settled into BYU’s indoor practice facility on Friday morning, March 25, to watch five Cougars showcase their skills, including Samson.
“My agent said, ‘We’ve got to get your name on the map,’” Samson said. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound prospect was flying well below their radar. “Every day as I prepared, I’d tell myself they are going to see what kind of player I am at the end of the day.”
Samson put on a show, which included a 40-yard dash time of 4.48. At the end of the day, he was spot on.
“Right after that is when teams started talking to us,” he said. “They were impressed with my body and how smooth I looked in the drills, and the Colts got me.”
When Nacua slides the Colts helmet on his head Friday morning at minicamp he will fulfill at least part of a lifelong dream. He has worn a helmet at Timpview High with an orange T, a Utah helmet with a U and a Cougars helmet with a Y. The Colts helmet, featuring a horseshoe, will be his first as a professional in the NFL.
“The biggest thing for me is to make sure everything feels exactly the same so I’m not riding anything too high or too low, but keeping in the middle,” he said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life since growing up with my dad as my coach. We talked about this moment. Now it’s here. I’ve just got to go out and act like a professional and be ready to go when the ball is thrown my way.”
No, Colts minicamp isn’t on par with a moon landing, but for Nacua, it will be out of this world, where his “small steps” over the next two days can eventually lead to his “giant leap” into the NFL.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.