Wakefield native returns to alma mater

Published in the June 8, 2018 edition.

By DAN PAWLOWSKI

JOHN RAFFERTY

WAKEFIELD — John Rafferty’s success as a running back and defensive back at Wakefield High School is well documented, and his leadership during Wakefield’s 1970 undefeated Middlesex League Championship team is fondly remembered.

The Wakefield Hall of Famer’s playing days are full of accolades including his unofficial 2,408 career rushing yards (some say it’s more but the records were destroyed in the high school 1971 fire), an All-Scholastic Award, and the Miller Award for being an outstanding athlete, student and citizen during his senior season as the captain of the Syracuse football team. Rafferty was even named the “Finest EMass Schoolboy Running Back of the 1970’s” by the Boston newspapers.

“I have great memories of teammates and coaches,” Rafferty recently told the Wakefield Warrior Club. “Our championship run in 1970 and how great that felt to win as a team are memories that will last a lifetime.”

But for all his successes as a player, it’s his coaching experience and pedigree that really excited the Wakefield football program.

“He’s a veteran coach that can step right in and we know what we’re getting out of him,” said WMHS athletic director Brendan Kent. “The football community is a small community and he is highly regarded throughout the state as one of the top head coaches.”

Rafferty was the head coach at North Andover High School from 2001 to 2014 where he amassed an overall record of 95-58, leading his team to the postseason in 2005 and 2010. He was most recently the defensive coordinator at Stoneham High for the last three seasons. During that time, the Spartans made it to three straight north sectional championships, winning twice.

“Wakefield got a really good coach,” said Stoneham head coach Bob Almeida. “I can only say the most amazing things about him. I’ve never seen anybody that works harder than he does and has more energy than he does in all of my years of coaching; he’s amazing.”

The Warriors decided to make a change in the offseason as Rafferty replaces Steve Cummings, who had a record of 10-21 during his three seasons at the helm. Cummings is, and will remain, a respected and well-liked teacher and coach in the Wakefield community, but administrators felt it was time to move in another direction.

“We appreciate all the time and effort that Steve Cummings put in over the past three years,” said Kent.

“When we made the decision to move in a different direction, John’s was a name that immediately popped up. There is a lot of excitement around him because of his connections to Wakefield but also (because of) his success as a head coach and the fact that he turned around the North Andover program.

“They had only won a handful of game in the past few years before he got there. He completely turned them around,” Kent added.

Rafferty’s coaching stops as an assistant include Reading from 1987-89, at Wakefield in 1990 and 1991 and at Melrose from 1992 to 2000, before he became head coach of North Andover.

Rafferty, while excited to return home to lead the Warriors, is taking it step-by-step.

“It’s one day at a time right now,” said Rafferty. “I grew up in Wakefield but with all the time that has passed it’s like stepping into a brand new situation and literally getting to know everybody involved and really just getting the lay of the land.”

A lot has changed at Wakefield. After all, Rafferty used to race past defenders parallel to North Ave. near the current site of the Galvin Middle School. Now, he’s got a great facility to get used to and new people to work with. What won’t change is Rafferty’s preferred style of play, which remains very “Wakefield” at heart.

“Our style of football is going to be disciplined, energetic and hustle-based so we can hopefully generate some excitement,” said Rafferty. “What I like to see is a group of kids who know what is expected of them and are able to execute and as a result just have some success.”

Kent said, “I think the brand of football that he has always been associated with is the brand of football that Wakefield prides themselves on and would love to get back to and that’s just a hard-nosed, blue collar, tough defense and a smash-mouth, brutal rushing attack.”

It’s a style that has worked well for Rafferty over the years, and that, combined with his preparation, work ethic and teaching ability, has Wakefield very excited.

“Although he’s not an educator, he’s one of the best teachers I’ve been around,” said Almeida, who also spent seven seasons competing against Rafferty when Almeida was head coach of Wilmington. “He breaks things down into every learning style there is. He’s thorough and patient in his presentation of what we’re doing and he’s extremely intense, but in a positive way.”

“Wakefield is clearly one of the better programs in the Middlesex League and has been for a long time and I think they will be competing for titles every year. It’s a great opportunity for him and a great opportunity for Wakefield. Other than when he plays us, I wish him all the success in the world.”

Coach “Raff” has already started working on one of his first initiatives, which is to create a year-round strength and conditioning program for the players.

“He’s already rolled that out,” said Kent. “He wants to see the kids in the weight room and have them in peak condition going into the season.”

That will hopefully help the coach get to know the returning players, which remains one of his first priorities.

“As far as goals each day, I’m hoping to get more acquainted with the program, the players and everybody involved,” said Rafferty.

Yes, a lot has changed since 1970. But John Rafferty is ready to bring the Warriors back to the top.