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How good of a volleyball player would Puka Nacua have been?

Los Angeles Rams receiver Puka Nacua runs toward the end zone for a touchdown during an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit.

Puka Nacua is the talk of the NFL after his unprecedented rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams. It wasn’t but a few years ago when he was the talk of Orem High — excelling in football, basketball and track and field. Nacua opted to play college football at Washington before transferring to BYU.

Shawn Olmstead believes college volleyball could have been another big hit on Nacua’s list.

“Puka would have been really, really good,” the veteran BYU men’s volleyball coach told the “Y’s Guys” podcast. At 6-foot-2, Nacua would be shorter than 17 players on Olmstead’s current roster.

“He’s not going to freak you out when he walks in, but he is going to do a wonderful job and play with great energy,” Olmstead said. “Also, everyone is going to want to be around that guy. That’s a big deal. That’s a big deal.”

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay sang Nacua’s praises all season, including after Sunday night’s 24-23 defeat at Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.

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“He’s a freaking stud,” McVay said. “He’s a great competitor. He shows up big, makes plays, he’s tough to tackle. He can work edges and win and separate. He can finish. This guy’s a freaking warrior. I love the mindset and mentality that he has.”

The Rams picked Nacua in the fifth round of last year’s NFL draft. The former BYU star broke the league rookie records for receptions (105), receiving yards (1,486) and his 181 receiving yards against the Lions was the most for a rookie in playoff history.

During his two years in Provo, Nacua caught 91 passes for 1,430 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for five touchdowns, including a 25-yard scoring run at Stanford in his last game at BYU.

Olmstead never got to coach him at the Smith Fieldhouse, but he believes his senior outside hitter, Jon Stanley, has a lot of “Puka” in him.

“Over time, you see that everything Puka does has a positive effect on the team. Stanley does that,” Olmstead said of the 6-foot-2 Honolulu product. “He’s not super imposing, but we see time and time again that his touches are positive. We all keep the stats. We see that when he’s involved, things are on the positive side for us. We score more points. We have more side-outs. Puka would be similar to that.”

Olmstead’s No. 9-ranked Cougars (3-1) play at UCSB Friday and Saturday before opening a monthlong homestand at the Smith Fieldhouse beginning Monday against Princeton (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv).

BYU men’s volleyball fans watch the Cougars defeat Ball State on Jan. 6, 2024, in Smith Fieldhouse in Provol | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo
BYU men’s volleyball fans watch the Cougars defeat Ball State on Jan. 6, 2024, in Smith Fieldhouse in Provol | Abby Shelton, BYU Photo

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.