In the end, the offer that came through first was the best, as Newburgh Free Academy rising senior Tyler Rafferty committed last Wednesday to play Division I football at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“To me, it was pretty obvious being close to home,” Rafferty said. “I usually said at the beginning that location wasn’t a big factor, but an institution like Army has so many benefits for me. At the end of the day, it’s bigger football and greater academics. It was hard to pass up on.”
Overall, Rafferty, a Section 9 Class AA champion with the Goldbacks’ football team and a third-team all-state linebacker, received seven offers to play Division I College football.
Army was the first, extending an offer on Feb. 11. He also received offers from Stony Brook University, The College of Holy Cross, Fordham University, Sacred Heart University, Bucknell University and Rhode Island.
He’s been in touch with Army’s Assistant Head Coach John Loose, who also coaches the team’s outside linebackers.
“He’s had me on some Zoom meetings,” Rafferty said. “He’s offered to hook me up with other people to get me to go there and see what it’s like. He just made me really comfortable with making my decision.”
His proximity to home also added a level of comfort for Rafferty.
“Just having the option for my family to come to every game without having to drive three hours every week to see games,” Rafferty said. It’s right over the mountain. So that was a big plus.”
Rafferty started out as a safety but moved to inside linebacker during his sophomore year. Army is looking at him to play either inside or outside.
“They’re getting a guy with some position flexibility,” Newburgh football coach Bill Bianco said. “He’s big enough to play inside and at 6’3”, he’s long enough to play outside. He can run. A lot of football these days is down-and distance packaging. He’s a guy who can do a lot of different things.”
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Rafferty’s senior football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he may not have necessarily committed in late August under normal circumstances.
But while the 2020 season is on shaky ground, he knows where he will be playing in 2021. Even, as far as fall 2020 is concerned, the Black Knights, which play an independent FBS schedule, are working hard to put a season together.
“There is a little bit of relief, almost like a safety net, but I’m not going to sit back and relax,” Rafferty said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing to reach the goals I have set.”
As an inside linebacker, Bianco said he has served as a bridge between the defensive line and the secondary, and that leadership ability will serve him well at the next level.
It’s also served him and his teammates well during the long offseason since school shut down in March.
Fall sports still have not resumed.
“It wasn’t so much difficult for me to prepare because it’s me and I know what I have to do to prepare,” Rafferty said. “Holding other teammates accountable was a challenge because you’re not with them in person. We had to do a lot of stuff virtually so that was a challenge and we’re getting through it.”
Army also will be getting a leader academically as Rafferty has an above-90 grade point average and he’s also a player who is willing to get on another teammate who may not be doing the right thing.
“Tyler is a leader in the sense that he’s not afraid to ruffle feathers with his teammates when they’re doing stuff wrong,” Bianco said. “Ultimately, you need that type of leadership sometimes because when it only comes from the coaching staff, sometimes that gets old.”
After graduating from West point, he will be obligated to serve five years for the Army. But that’s down the road, while he’s looking forward to hopefully having a senior football season at Newburgh, he’s looking forward to one of the special benefits of playing for Army.
“For the football aspect, I’m definitely looking forward to playing in one of those Army-Navy games,” Rafferty said. “In the other aspect, I’m looking forward to working for the Army.”