AFC Ann Arbor are happy to announce Jake Rufe as the third member of The Mighty Oak’s 2019 campaign. A veteran of AFC and familiar with both the club and Eric Rudland, Rufe spent 2016 and 2017 with AFCAA before a season with the Michigan Bucks in the PDL in 2018. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Rufe returns to The Mighty Oak having completed his collegiate career at Western Michigan University.
While new experiences are always alluring, Rufe said about returning to AFCAA, “Nothing has come close to the joy and excitement that I got playing in Ann Arbor in my two seasons with AFCAA.” Rufe continued, “I have some lifelong friendships from my time there and I am maybe most excited to get around those guys again.” Rufe’s passion is something that Eric Rudland has immediately noticed, as he said of the midfielder, “Rufe really embodies everything that our club stands for. He was a part of our family during my first two seasons with the club. Back in 2016 he was a steady player who helped shape the culture of our club and in 2017 he was a huge part of our success.” His return provides an exciting presence into the midfield for The Mighty Oak.
Rufe is a player with much to be impressed with. He has impressed at all levels of play. This includes, collegiately, a Second Team All-MAC selection in 2017 with the Broncos along with starting in all twenty games, and playing in the second-most minutes, of the Broncos’ 2018 campaign. This even more recently also includes an impressive showing at the 2018 Midwest Pro Soccer Combine, under the direction of Rudland himself. Of the combine experience, Rufe said, “The Midwest Combine was an important event for me and for a lot of guys there to see where we were at in regards to players aspiring for the same goal. The combine places you in a peculiar situation of balancing the act of playing simple yet showing the abilities that set you apart.” As for how that pertains to his current state of play, Rufe said, “Now I have an idea of where I am and where I want to be as a player and I am much more confident heading to trials or events moving forward.”
As a player, Rufe is versatile in the midfield, able to play deeper in the pitch as a ‘six’ or in a more advanced ‘eight’ in the midfield. Both of these strengths lend themselves brilliantly to the AFC system, as Rudland says about the player, “He has a massive engine, plays with heart and possess a range of abilities that make him a huge commodity for AFCAA.” Speaking of his own strengths, Rufe highlights a few, saying, “I would say work rate and intensity have got to be some of the things that stands out about my game and I am always trying to get up and down the field as much as I can especially defensively.”
Of course, practice makes perfect, and Rufe looks forward to returning to the training of AFC, with a top-class staff ready to help. He said, “The team environment during training is competitive and has always been a place to improve your game and challenge your teammates to the maximum. AFC truly has a remarkable head coach in Eric Rudland, and he manages the players well on and off the pitch. Boyzzz [Khumalo] is a special resource to work with, and the staff as a whole is genuinely invested in the overall wellbeing of the guys and it shows.”
On a personal level, in terms of his own game, Rufe highlights what the staff helps him greatly with, “…my awareness and not working myself out of the play. This is something I am constantly trying to improve as it usually gives me a better picture of what I should do in possession of the ball.” His consistency in working hard and improving helps set him apart from other midfielders while also allowing him to fit right in with AFC.
With his return in the season to come, the time is right to reminisce about the seasons prior that he spent with The Mighty Oak. When it comes to one of his two seasons standing out, though, Rufe explains, “Winning the league in such a dominant fashion in 2017 stands out looking back as a whole. My first season with the club moving from the bench, to a sub, and then finally to a starting player was such a satisfying experience and one in which I really began to find my style as well as my role for the club.”
When talking about a game in particular, there is one he also has in mind, saying “The fans make the most memorable games however and when we play rivals and the crowd turns up at their strongest it is unforgettable. One in particular was DCFC at home in 2017. The game was a huge result at that time in the season and the stadium was packed out with AFC fans including my parents and some close friends that made the trip from down in Alabama.” With the new season not too far off in the distance, fans will surely have no doubt that happy memories like those in 2017 are sure to follow, with Rufe playing a part in them as well.