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Puka Nacua is poised to make NFL history. Here’s how he got here

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) waits to take the field before an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif.

Puka Nacua is on the cusp of breaking a pair of NFL rookie single-season records, including one that has stood for more than 60 years.

The Utah native’s football journey has taken him from being named Deseret News’ Mr. Football in 2018 during a standout career at Orem High to college football in Washington for two seasons, then two more years at BYU before being a fifth-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in last April’s NFL draft.

Now, the 6-foot-2 Nacua is within earshot of breaking the two biggest records yet for him in a rookie season full of accolades.

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He heads into Sunday’s regular-season finale on the road against the San Francisco 49ers with 1,445 receiving yards on the season, and thus needs just 29 receiving yards to surpass the NFL rookie record in that category set in 1960, when the Houston Oilers’ Bill Groman had 1,473.

“I think you’d like to be able to see him get an opportunity to do something special and then be smart with him.” — Rams coach Sean McVay, on playing Puka Nacua in Week 18

Nacua also needs four receptions to set the league rookie record for receptions — the Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle had 104 in 2021 (Nacua also has five touchdowns and 89 rushing yards on the season).

Even though Los Angeles has wrapped up a playoff berth and will be sitting several starters — among them quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive tackle Aaron Donald — the plan is for Nacua to play as he chases history.

“I think you’d like to be able to see him get an opportunity to do something special and then be smart with him,” Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters this week, as previously reported by the Deseret News.

What has Puka Nacua already accomplished in his rookie season?

On Wednesday, Nacua was named a Pro Bowler, one of two former Cougars named to a Pro Bowl Games roster this year along with 49ers linebacker Fred Warner.

It’s the first time since 2010 that two former BYU players earned Pro Bowl honors the same season. That year, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Brett Keisel and Miami Dolphins long snapper John Denney were both selected, as the Deseret News previously reported.

Nacua already achieved several rookie receiving records earlier this year. Among them:

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Nacua also has seven games with 100 yards or more receiving, which is tied for second all-time among rookies along with Harlon Hill (1954), Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) and Justin Jefferson (2020), according to ESPN.

Only Groman had more 100-yard games as a rookie, with nine in 1960.

Nacua could take over sole possession of second place — he’s had 100-plus receiving yards in the Rams’ last two games — though it seems more likely the Rams will rest him — or “be smart with him,” as McVay said — once he sets the rookie single-season records.

“It’s fun being out there with him, just the joy and excitement he has playing this game,” Kupp told reporters about Nacua back in October, as the Deseret News previously reported.

“He’s physical, and he has fun out there. It’s fun playing with him, and he’s just going to continue to get better, which is crazy to say, as good as he’s been.”

How to watch Puka Nacua vs. 49ers in Week 18

The Rams will face the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium at 2:25 p.m. MST Sunday.

The game will be televised on Fox. Check the coverage map on 506sports.com to find out if it’s being broadcast in your area.