Wildcats' head coach leaves for Shamokin

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COAL TOWNSHIP - Shamokin Area officially hired former Penn State defensive back Yaacov Yisrael as the Indians' next head football coach Monday, Jan. 14 at a special meeting of the school board.

The board voted, 9-0, to hire Yisrael, who was the head coach the past two seasons at Halifax Area, as the district's 11th head coach since the Shamokin-Coal Township jointure in 1965. Board member Ron McElwee was unable to attend the meeting and cast his yes vote by phone. Yaacov was hired at a salary of $2,990. Yisrael has a degree in business management and works full time in property and real estate management and also works with foreign exchange rates.

Yisrael was 8-12 the past two seasons at Halifax with a team that at times only dressed 20 or so players. He succeeds Dan Foor, who coached the Indians from 2009-12, posting a 16-30 overall record. His tenure was highlighted by a District 4-AAA title and state playoff win in 2011 but the Indians slipped to 2-9 last season.

Yisrael was introduced to the public by board President Brian Persing, then met with players, parents and members of the public at a meet-and-greet session in the school cafeteria following the meeting.

"I'd like to thank Mr. Zack (Superintendent James Zack), Mr. Venna (Principal Chris Venna), Mr. Kashner (Athletic Director Rick Kashner) and all the board members for their support," Yisrael said in his first public statement after the vote. "This has been an intense month for me, trying to figure out my situation as a coach. I want to help Shamokin's kids to have success on and off the field."

Passionate community

Later, speaking with the media, Yisrael said he looked at the Shamokin job as an important one because of how passionate the community can be about the sport.

"I like the fact that people here definitely think football is important," said Yisrael, a Chicago native who played at Palatine High School in that city, a team which was nationally ranked when he played. He later started for Penn State in 2001 and 2003. missing the 2002 season with an injury. "It's important to me. I think the kids here are tough. I think it's an opportunity for me to further myself as a coach and person. I want to try to bring some excitement back to the program."

Yisrael said he realizes the Shamokin fan base can be tough but said his experience at a high-profile high school program and at Penn State has prepared him.

"I played on a USA Today ranked team in high school and in college I played for a team that was ranked number one," Yisrael said. "I think that prepares you for things like that."

Persing joked about the fan base when he invited the public to the cafeteria.

"Coach, we'll go down there and you can meet everybody and they can tell you what offense to run," Persing said.

Putting a staff together

Yisrael said he would work in the coming weeks to put a staff together and to get the players started on offseason workouts.

"I have some people in mind and I plan to meet with Rick (Kashner) this week some time to get his input. I know he has some people in mind, so maybe we can put something together," he said.

He also said he's not wedded to any one kind of offensive or defensive system, a by-product of coaching with a limited number of players at Halifax.

"I like to run an offense which can attack any part of a defense, but you have to gear what you do to your personnel," Yisrael said. "I had a couple of really good players at Halifax. That helped."

Yisrael is wedded to Jill Martz-Yisrael, a teacher and field hockey coach in the Line Mountain district, whom he introduced to the crowd. They met when she played field hockey at Penn State.

"Most people say she's the real athlete in the family," Yisrael joked.

She said leaving Halifax was tough for her husband.

"It was a tough decision for him," Martz-Yisrael said. "We had some long talks about it. He loved the people and the kids there but he felt this was a real good opportunity for him and I'm behind him 100 percent."

Yisrael said he thinks the offseason is an important time to foster a feeling of family within the team and to build a level of discipline.

"I think the important thing there is to be consistent," he said. "That's one of the big things I got from Joe Paterno."

Yisrael also pointed out his time in the Pittsburgh Steelers camp as a free agent and his stint in the Arena Football League as preparing him for coaching.

"Looking back, I've always been around great coaches," he said. "My high school coach was a great coach, then Coach Paterno, then Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau with the Steelers. Coaching is something I just kind of fell into and I look into it as an opportunity to give something back. I was a fellow who was always undersized, so I really had to learn the game, too."

Yisrael made a point to thank Halifax Athletic Director Gay Boyer and athletic secretary Vicky Hoover for their help.

"They've really been supportive of me during this whole process," he said. "They did a lot for me while I was there. I'll miss the people and kids there, but I'm looking forward to meeting the people and players here."

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