Why did Samson and Puka Nacua leave their respective P5 football programs to play for BYU? It was all about family.

Samson, a grad transfer, previously played for rival Utah, while Puka is coming in as a sophomore from Washington.

It was always about family. It was never about football.

At least, that was the case with Samson and Puka Nacua, and why they decided to transfer to BYU.

Only recently made official, the transfers turned some heads. It’s not every day players opt to leave a Power Five program for a non-P5 school, especially to go to an independent program. But that’s exactly what the Nacua brothers did.

Samson left Utah, while Puka left Washington. And they would do it all over again if they had to.

“My decision was never made through football or because of football,” Samson Nacua said. “At the end of the day, it was always to be home with grandma and be home with mom because I know, at the end of the day, that’s who’s going to be there for me and what matters most.”

The 75-year-old matriarch of the family has seen a decline in her health over the last year. Although she’s been to doctor’s appointments, the Nacua family still hasn’t gotten any answers as to what is wrong with their grandmother, but the Nacua brothers said they’ve noticed a difference in her and have seen her slow down.

Decades ago, Samson and Puka’s grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from West Samoa with her only daughter, Penina. Because Penina lost her husband back in May 2012, the deteriorating health of their grandma affected the entire family, Samson and Puka said.

Besides their siblings, their mom and grandma are all the family they have.

Samson also feels an intense sense of gratitude for his grandma and her decision to immigrate, especially since it led to their opportunity to play college football.

Samson and Puka will be the third and fourth Nacua brothers to play for BYU. Older brothers Kai and Isaiah both played for the Cougars, with oldest brother Kai moving on to the NFL, where he currently plays for the San Francisco 49ers.

“She just made a decision — out of nowhere, she tells me — just to get up and leave and come to America to have a better life, and she brought my mom,” Samson Nacua said. “I think, honestly, without my grandma starting everything and coming to America, we would have nothing. Me and my siblings wouldn’t be here where we’re at today. I was the first graduate of the whole family — the first one ever to graduate to college. It’s been a new generational start for us.”

While it may seem that Samson and Puka came to the decision to transfer BYU together, they said they actually each came to terms with it on their own.

For Samson, the last year — particularly the pandemic — hit him hard and the former Ute found himself struggling with his mental health. When everything initially shut down, Samson found himself back home with his family. That’s when it started dawning on him; although he was never too far away, Samson missed having that family interaction.

After the 2020 season ended, the decision came easily.

For Puka, the pandemic also took a toll mentally and physically, he said. In June, Puka moved back to Seattle, where he got his first apartment with a friend — a big move for the younger brother. The Huskies ended up playing only a four-game season. With no postseason, Puka was able to come back home to Provo for the holidays. That’s when he was hit with the realization of how much he missed his family.

“Obviously, the physical distance of me being in Seattle, I was away from my family,” Puka Nacua said. “But emotionally and mentally how distant I had felt from not being able to see them or really communicate with them or just be there, like seeing them in person to physically touch them and stuff like that.”

Now, both Samson and Puka are back living at home and enjoying the every-day family activities. The brothers help their mom by taking their youngest brother to high school or taking their grandma out on her daily walks around University Parkway or to get her Starbucks (a favorite activity of hers, per Puka Nacua).

It was also important to provide support to their mother, Samson Nacua said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Samson Nacua at University of Utah football practice in Salt Lake City on Tuesday March 26, 2019.

“That’s her mom,” Samson Nacua said. “My mom’s already lost her husband and only has her kids left, and her mom’s been the only rock since my dad’s passed. And losing her, I already know, is going to be really hard for my mom. I want my mom and my grandma to know nothing in this life is going to be easy, but we’re all going to be a family through this.”

“At the end of the day, football is a business — everybody knows it. My biggest investment is my family, so that’s what I’m going to take care of first and make sure they’re OK,” Samson Nacua added.

Now that the Nacua brothers have been back in Provo for a few weeks — and officially joined the Cougars — they are both excited for what they can contribute to the BYU program.

While the decision to transfer was purely personal, it doesn’t hurt that BYU is coming off its best season in years or that the program is being highlighted due to Zach Wilson and the upcoming NFL draft.

While Dax Milne also opted to end his BYU career early to pursue his pro career, Samson and Puka will still have plenty of competition in the wide receiver group to beat.

The group returns top receivers Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u, along with a nearly a dozen other receivers.

During his time at Utah, Samson totaled 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns on 82 receptions throughout 45 career games. In two seasons at Washington, Puka averaged 19.9 yards per reception for a total of 319 yards and three touchdowns.

Knowing that BYU has a lot of receivers excited Puka, who believes the Cougars will be able to throw the ball a lot next season, he said.

“We all have different skill sets, but I know once we get out there, it’s going to be fine,” Puka Nacua said. “... Definitely, when we get out there and start running routes and getting a feel for each other, I think the sky’s the limit. We’re going to start rolling.”