TKA Grad Justin Wake Helps Lead Keiser To A National Title

Quarterback Justin Wake runs in the national title game. Photo courtesy Keiser University Athletics

In football, the next-man-up mentality is necessary for any team to succeed. That was especially the case for the No. 3-ranked Keiser University Seahawks football team, which won the NAIA National Championship on Monday, Dec. 18 by defeating the No. 1-ranked Red Raiders from Iowa’s Northwestern College, 31-21, in Durham, North Carolina.

It was a rematch of last year’s NAIA National Championship game, which was won by Northwestern. Going into this year’s national title tilt, Keiser had a huge void to fill on its offense at the all-important position of quarterback.

During Keiser’s 28-21 NAIA semifinal win against the College of Idaho on Saturday, Dec. 9, starting quarterback Bryce Veasley suffered a serious wrist injury, which put his status to play in the national championship game against Northwestern in jeopardy.

That meant the job of playing quarterback could well be in the hands of Justin Wake, the team’s season-long backup quarterback, who is a 2019 graduate of the King’s Academy.

During the entire 2023 season and postseason, Wake made spot appearances in just five games, where he had completed 14 of 24 passes for 277 yards, without any touchdown passes or interceptions. Wake’s most recent appearance had been against Webber International University on Nov. 4, where he threw just one completed pass. His longest playing stint this season was on Oct. 14 when he completed eight of 12 passes for 137 yards against Warner University. Wake’s most recent start at quarterback was two years ago when he was enrolled at Southwest Baptist University. In that game, his team lost, and he threw two interceptions.

Losing Veasley to an injury late in the postseason was not an ideal scenario for Keiser University head football coach Doug Socha, but he had confidence in Wake.

“Justin and Bryce shared reps with the offense during practice prior to the game against Northwestern, but it became increasingly clear that Justin was the best choice to run the entire offense in our playbook,” Socha said. “We had confidence in Justin since he had been taking reps in practice with the offense throughout the season. He knew our playbook.”

The final decision to start Wake was not made until the morning of the national championship game, which had a noon kickoff.

“We told Justin about 90 minutes before the start of the game that the job of starting quarterback was all his,” Socha said.

Any concerns that Socha had about Wake disappeared after his first completed pass against Northwestern.

“When I saw Justin successfully run a play-action pass, I knew he was fine,” Socha said.

“That play-action pass was something we ran in practice during the week, and it worked out perfectly,” Wake recalled.

Socha also complimented Veasley on his attitude and willingness to help Wake transition from being the backup quarterback to the starter — in the national championship game.

“Bryce did a great job of working with Justin in the days leading up to the game and during the game on the sidelines,” Socha noted.

Wake was also thankful for Veasley’s help.

“Before kickoff, Bryce told me that this was my time, and he had my back,” Wake said. “I took a lot of the reps at quarterback during the week of practice prior to the game, so I knew that starting at quarterback was a real possibility. Bryce and I are good friends, and we have spent a great deal of time together watching film.”

Wake’s job was made easier thanks to an efficient offensive line and a talented group of running backs, which racked up 373 rushing yards in the game.

“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game, but I was surrounded by great players and great coaches, which made my job easier,” Wake said. “I had a wave of emotions leading up to the game and during the game.”

Keiser’s productivity on the ground started early in the first quarter. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Wake handed the ball to teammate Jaden Meizinger, who sprinted 75 yards for a touchdown. After the successful point-after kick, Keiser led 7-0. The Seahawks never relinquished the lead.

Along the way, Wake completed 10 of 15 passes for 117 yards. While two of those incompletions were interceptions, Wake did throw one touchdown pass, and he ran the ball four times for 50 yards.

For Wake, another memorable part of the game took place midway through the third quarter with Keiser holding onto a 17-7 lead. With Wake at quarterback, Keiser took over at its own one-yard line. Keiser was 99 yards away from paydirt. On the fifth play of the drive, Wake connected with Maurico Porcha for a 30-yard touchdown pass, which extended Keiser’s lead to 24-7 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.

When the final horn sounded, Keiser (12-2) had won its first national championship in football, which was impressive considering Keiser’s football program is only six years old.

While that win was Wake’s farewell appearance as a college football player, he is expected to remain with the team next year.

“We are planning on Justin being a graduate assistant coach on next year’s team,” Socha said.

Wake, 23, who will be graduating with a degree in criminal justice in May, is looking forward to the next stage of his football career.

“I am passionate about football,” he said. “It’s a dream of mine to coach football. I’m excited about remaining at Keiser as a coach.”

With both Veasley and Wake departing as graduating seniors, the next-man-up mentality will be necessary for Keiser’s football team to find a new quarterback and succeed again on the gridiron next year.