Chapman alumnus helps lead men’s lacrosse team to success

Andrew James (AJ) Rafter
Andrew (AJ) Rafter has been the assistant coach of the men’s lacrosse team for two seasons. In the 33 games he’s coached, the team has held a 30-3 record. Photo by Cassidy Keola.

Andrew James (AJ) Rafter has always been committed. He’s carried this sentiment with him throughout his athletic career.

“It’s a waste of time not to give your full effort in what you do … time is valuable and you can never get it back,” said Rafter, a 2014 alumnus.

Playing both football and lacrosse, Rafter saw the differences in both sports, but his love lacrosse is the “name of the game.”

Growing up in Tustin, California, Rafter first began playing lacrosse in eighth grade at Hewes Middle School. When he graduated, he was given a choice: going to Tustin High School for football or Foothill High School for lacrosse. He loves football for its toughness and the grit it takes to play, but he also loves how he has more freedom in lacrosse. When it came down to it, Rafter had planned to attend Tustin High School, play football, while playing lacrosse with Foothill’s club team.

Rafter was ready to take on the challenge of playing two sports, but there was an issue: Foothill became a sanctioned California Interscholastic Federation team and Rafter couldn’t play without attending the school. Rafter was forced to stop playing competitive lacrosse.

“I wasn’t overly bummed. I had only played lacrosse for a year. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, so I just moved on,” Rafter said.
Tustin established a lacrosse team during Rafter’s freshman year, but after their head coach quit the team was disbanded. Rafter decided to make football his focus. It was around that time that he met, Wade Minshew, a now-close friend.

“He was definitely more of a newcomer (to football), but he quickly became a very good football player,” Minshew said. “He was very good at lacrosse, but once he grew into football, he also became more of a powerful lacrosse player. Both sports coincided with his athleticism.”

During Rafter’s senior year of high school, he committed to Kansas State University to play football. The lacrosse team was brought back to his high school during his junior year, and Rafter found himself burnt out from football.

“It wasn’t fun anymore. I couldn’t stand going to practice,” Rafter said. “Lacrosse was my getaway.”

He reversed his commitment to Kansas State with no contingency plan in place. But, as he was playing a pickup lacrosse game, he and Minshew were noticed by Michael Wood, the head coach for the men’s lacrosse team at Chapman from 2008 to 2010 and the linebackers coach for the football team.

“Wood got me into this school and he went out of his way to make the process easier,” Rafter said. “He essentially sold me on the idea of what Chapman was. As an 18-year-old, I was fearful of what would happen to the program. I gave the new coach a chance and it ended up being the head coach of today, Dallas Hartley.”

Rafter said when he first arrived at Chapman, he felt like he was a strong athlete, but his body was shaped more for football rather than lacrosse. Regardless, Rafter continued to improve as time went on, playing all four years at Chapman and accumulating a total of 43 ground balls, 52 goals and 23 assists.

He played 78 games during his lacrosse career with the team. Graduating in 2014 with a bachelor’s in kinesiology, Rafter is now an assistant coach for the men’s lacrosse team he played on five years ago. He’s been coaching for two years and while he is 27, Parker Core, a senior finance major and midfielder, doesn’t see a setback when it comes to Rafter’s age.

“He came and established that authoritative figure, but he still helps us out because of his young mindset,” Core said. “He rides that fine line of being an authority figure, but also being mellow and being able to know how we feel. There’s no doubt that he can be fun, but when he says to do something, we understand.”