Puka Nacua prefers Ty Jones as a teammate.
The alternative? Well, that was profoundly less pleasant.
Nacua told the story last spring, several months before the four-star wide receiver officially enrolled at Washington. Back in his sophomore season, Nacua’s Orem Tigers hosted Jones’ Provo Bulldogs on Sept. 29, 2016.
Long story short, Provo emerged with a 25-13 victory.
Long story longer, Jones — now a junior receiver at Washington — left an overmatched Orem secondary wilting in his wake.
“When we were playing Provo our defense was game-planning, and everybody knows Ty,” recalled Nacua, whose high school is located roughly five miles from Jones’. “So … Ty torched us. I don’t know what our defensive game plan was, but he torched us. He had like three one-handed grabs. He was just torching our entire defense. I was like, ‘Guys, what is going on?’”
The prevailing theme from Nacua: Ty torched the Tigers. But, if you need proof, there’s no shortage of highlights to go around. Like, for instance, how Jones used his 6-foot-4 frame to box out and bully an Orem safety for a 41-yard gain. Or how he ripped an interception out of an opponent’s mitts for a 22-yard touchdown. Or how he palmed a looping pass with his right hand, pulled it into his body and barreled out of bounds on the edge of the end zone, without ever using the left.
Jones’ final line: seven catches, 149 receiving yards, 1 touchdown. Nacua, meanwhile, managed to haul in four passes for 68 yards.
But the torching could have been even worse. Jones, after all, recorded 63 catches for 1,523 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season in 2016. He added 38 catches, 562 receiving yards and six scores in his first two seasons in Seattle.
Jones’ potential is evident, and not just to Nacua. But an injury last April halted the 6-4, 213-pound wide receiver’s progress. He missed all but one practice last spring with a dislocated lunate bone and torn ligaments in his wrist, Jones confirmed to The Times last week. Following a pair of surgeries, he only began catching passes “a few days before fall camp.”
Even now, Jones said that he’s limited in his ability to catch the ball at certain angles. To make matters worse, he dislocated his left thumb — before promptly popping it back into place — during last Tuesday’s practice.
“I have to for sure rely on my left side a little bit heavier (with the wrist injury),” he said. “I’m just getting comfortable.”
Despite Jones’ ongoing issues, Washington’s significant depth at wide receiver should provide some comfort for Husky fans. UW returns every wideout who recorded a catch in 2018, including seniors Aaron Fuller (58 catches, 874 yards, 4 TDs), Andre Baccellia (55 catches, 584 yards), Chico McClatcher (9 catches, 134 yards) and Quinten Pounds (8 catches, 166 yards, 1 TD).
The 6-1, 204-pound Nacua could also crack the rotation and avoid a redshirt.
Jones — his occasional offseason training partner and official visit host — is one reason he’s here at all.
“When I hung out with him and talked with him during his official visit, especially with the changes we were having in the receivers’ room (with the hire of position coach Junior Adams), I felt like we left a good impression. We obviously did,” Jones said.
“I told him, ‘Forget about football for a second, and think about where you want to live in the future.’ I told him that this place would set him up outside of football; it would set him up on a path for success.”
To this point, Nacua’s path has been littered with ruined records. He left Orem High School as the Utah state record-holder for career receptions (260), receiving yards (5,226) and receiving touchdowns (58), as well as single-season catches (103), receiving yards (2,336) and touchdowns (26). He was named the 2018 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year and the offensive MVP of the 2019 Polynesian Bowl.
After Jones headed northwest to Washington, Nacua set the state on fire.
“He’s a competitor,” said Jones, who trains in the offseason with Nacua under former BYU wide receiver Ross Apo. “He weighed more than I expected (in fall camp). He’s strong. Whether it’s a deep ball or a hitch, he can take it to the house. He’s very explosive.”
Washington — which will travel to Provo, home to Jones and Nacua, to meet BYU on Sept. 21 — has continued to recruit explosive prospects from the state of Utah. After failing to sign a player from the state in Chris Petersen’s first three classes, the Huskies have signed five Utah recruits — Jones, Nacua, redshirt freshmen defensive lineman Sam Taimani and linebacker M.J. Tafisi and outside linebacker Jordan Lolohea (who is expected to enroll in January after completing a mission trip) — in the three classes since.
They’re currently recruiting four-star 2020 defensive end and Draper, Utah, product Xavier Carlton as well.
“A lot of people sleep on Utah,” Jones said. “I think we have a great group of kids coming out of Utah. It’s cool to see that other people are starting to see that.”
On Sept. 29, 2016, Nacua saw it for himself. Now, nearly three years later, a pair of opponents-turned-teammates from Provo are out to torch the Pac-12.