Case study number one: Harvard senior free safety Chris Raftery, whose scorching speed and penchant for making bone-crushing hits aren’t altogether obvious at first sight. Raftery is not a big guy—he’s generously listed at 6’0” and 180 pounds—and his politeness and articulacy are more likely characteristics of a lawyer than a defensive back.
But Raftery’s defining trait, a messy mop of vintage Pacific coast blond hair, makes him look more like a surfer dude than anything else.
“It’s not serious,” he says of his hairstyle. “But when I’m older I’m probably going to have to be clean cut.”
To conform to such a standard would be out of character for the 22-year old from Bellevue, Wash., who is constantly defying expectations and refusing to fit into a preconceived mold.
A Seattle Times All-Area running back after his senior year of high school, moving full-time to cornerback in college? Check.
An Honorable Mention All-Ivy right cornerback in 2002, moving to free safety for his senior season? Check.
A top college safety planning on moving on after graduation…to be a lawyer? No problem.
“Eventually, I want to go to law school,” Raftery says. “I do know I want to take two years off. Get a job, get experience, make some money, travel.”
At the moment, Raftery’s aspirations do not seem so far out of reach.
“Chris definitely has the SoCal surfer look happening right now,” says linebacker and Mather house blockmate Juano Queen, “but underneath that shaggy mop of his, there are some brains too.”
It’s the way Raftery’s smarts have translated onto the football field that has been critical to the Harvard defense this season.
Along with being expected to make tackles (Raftery’s fourth on the team, with 63) and break up passing plays (he has four interceptions and nine break-ups), the free safety is expected to “quarterback” the defense and get the players in front of him to adjust positioning. In addition, Raftery has been forced to lead by example a secondary that has been banged-up and, as a result, lacking experience in recent days.
“It’s been tough,” says Raftery, whose experience at cornerback has precipitated some recent playing time at his former position after injuries to junior Gary Sonkur and senior Benny Butler. “We’ve been shifting the field around…The tough part about being a defensive back is that if the ball gets behind the defensive linemen and linebackers, it’s not a big deal. When the ball gets behind us, it’s over. You can lose your confidence very easily.”
And that’s when leadership from seniors like Raftery, Butler and Mante Dzakuma comes in handy.
“That’s very important, especially with the younger players,” says Raftery. “When a big play happens to any player on the secondary, you’ve got to keep them focused and confident.”