How Utah State transfer safety Crew Wakley went from sixth-stringer to starter for 5-3 Cougars
Former Jordan High quarterback has become one of the BYU defense’s top playmakers in 2023
When he arrived at BYU last spring as a preferred walk-on after two seasons playing a multitude of positions at Utah State, Crew Wakley joined a safeties room that was quite crowded, to say the least.
“There were 13 safeties on the roster, and I was No. 13,” he said.
Well, look at where the former Jordan High quarterback is now.
“Being in a place where I have a coach that supports me and multiple coaches that support me has been huge for me. I feel like I am working towards success rather than against my coaches.” — BYU free safety Crew Wakley
Wakley has not only become a starter for the BYU defense, he’s emerged as one of the best playmakers on the team. The 6-foot, 205-pound redshirt sophomore from Sandy had a career-high nine tackles and tipped a pass that led to an interception in BYU’s 27-14 win over Texas Tech, then followed that with nine more tackles and a pick of his own against Texas in the 35-6 loss in Austin last week.
Wakley returned the interception 55 yards to the Texas 10, but linebacker Max Tooley was flagged for an illegal block in the back penalty behind the play and the ball was brought way back to the BYU 45.
When he regained his breath on the sidelines, teammates teased him about not being able to take it to the house, but Wakley was more worried about getting ready for UT’s next possession.
“You have to have a short memory as a defensive back,” he said.
That mentality applies to this week, too, as the 5-3 Cougars travel to West Virginia to take on the 5-3 Mountaineers, 10-point favorites, in Morgantown, West Virginia. Kickoff for the Big 12 matchup is at 5 p.m. MDT and it will be televised by either Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports, depending on whether the World Series reaches seven games.
Basically, free safety Wakley and fellow walk-on Ethan Slade, a strong safety from Orem High, have saved the Cougars in the safety positions this season, after projected starters Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey suffered major injuries in fall camp. Harper is out for the season with a torn ACL, while Alfrey is still trying to get back.
What’s more, senior Malik Moore slipped down the depth chart, while another walk-on who was stepping up in a big way, Tanner Wall, suffered a season-ending injury midway through the season. Freshman Raider Damuni and redshirt freshman Preston Rex are now backing up Wakley and Slade and are improving quickly, defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jay Hill said.
Wakley’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for doing the incomplete signal in the face of a TCU receiver hurt the Cougars in that 44-11 loss, but since then he’s made amends with big-time plays. Having served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fort Worth, Texas, the mistake made out of exuberance and the big loss was tough to take, Wakley said.
But he rebounded nicely.
“Crew has played very well the last two weeks,” Hill said Tuesday. “In our grading system, he’s graded as what we call a champion. He has made some huge plays for us the last two weeks, helped create some turnovers, multiple turnovers now. I like his progression, where he’s at.”
With star linebacker Ben Bywater out for the season with a shoulder injury, Tooley has become BYU’s leading tackler, with 55 takedowns. Wakley is seventh, with 29, and is tied for third in pass breakups, with three.
Not bad for a guy who was the 13th on the depth chart six months ago.
“I feel like I’m just getting started,” Wakley said in late September, after he got his first start, against Arkansas. He got hurt tackling massive Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson the first play of the game, wobbled off the field, and didn’t return.
“That’s part of football. I wasn’t too worried about it. I knew it wasn’t a very bad injury,” he said of what appeared to be a concussion. “Had it been worse and I would have been out longer. I think it would have taken a bigger toll, but I never really had any symptoms.”
An uphill climb to BYU
Although his grandfather, Ron Wakley, played running back for BYU from 1967-69, Crew didn’t grow up a big BYU fan. Far from it.
At Jordan, Wakley threw for almost 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns his senior year and also rushed 195 times for 1,420 yards and 22 TDs.
His best scholarship offer after an all-state career as a quarterback was from Utah State, so he signed with the Aggies and headed off on his mission.
“They just kinda signed me as an athlete,” he said. “I didn’t know what position I was going to play.”
He played safety and linebacker his first year in Logan, then got moved to quarterback when Blake Anderson was hired and a new staff took over. His second year, he was moved to safety, then cornerback, then safety, then linebacker.
“That was part of the frustration, just because I was (playing) all over the place,” Wakley said.
After not getting on the field much at all in 2022, he hit the transfer portal.
“I think it just came down to the fact that I needed a fresh start,” said Wakley, who married Kimber Smith during his time in Logan. “Mentally, I needed to be in a place where I was more, I guess, myself. I had to kinda just get out of the environment. It wasn’t very conducive to success for me.”
Wakley said his experience at BYU has been “a night and day difference” from Utah State.
“Being in a place where I have a coach that supports me and multiple coaches that support me has been huge for me,” he said. “I feel like I am working towards success rather than against my coaches.”
Wakley said when he was in the portal he didn’t really pursue any other potential destinations.
“This is the place I wanted to be at,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily have any other offers, but I have friends at other schools that (said) their coaches were interested in me, other in-state schools. But I didn’t look anywhere else.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-3, 5-3)
at West Virginia (3-2, 5-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
Milan Puskar Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
His brother Kale is a freshman receiver for Utah Tech in St. George.
Crew said one of the main reasons he ended up at BYU was his familiarity with the coaching staff. When Hill was at Weber State, he had established a relationship with Wakley and offered him a scholarship to play in Ogden.
“Well, we loved him in high school as a safety,” Hill said. “He was super physical, even though he was playing quarterback. We loved his physicality. We loved his intensity.
“So we have known about him as a defensive player for a long time. It is just now that we are having an opportunity to let him showcase what he can do on this side of the ball.”