Yaacov Yisrael takes the field tonight for the first regular season game as the coach for Shamokin Area High School. The young Indians host a tough Pottsville squad at Kemp Memorial Stadium, and most believe the home team won't be celebrating when it's over.

As they say, however, that's why they play the game. Besides, if the debut ends up in the loss column, Yisrael has already scored a number of more important victories.

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Yaacov was an All-American and All-State selection as a wide receiver, defensive back, punter and kickoff returner at Palatine High School in suburban Chicago. He came to Pennsylvania via Penn State University, where he was a standout defensive back who started for the Nittany Lions in 2001 and 2003; he missed the 2002 season with a knee injury.

He was a captain in 2003, and finished the season as the team's second leading tackler, earning second team All-Big Ten accolades. Yisrael signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 and attended training camp, then spent some time in Arena football.

It was at Penn State where Yisrael met his wife, Jill Martz-Yisrael, herself a standout athlete who played field hockey at Penn State. Yisrael has a degree in business management and works full time in property and real estate management, and also works with foreign exchange rates.

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Yisrael guided Halifax teams to a combined 8-12 record over the past two years in his first head coaching job. As tough as the Tri-Valley League can be in football, Yisrael knows he has taken on a new challenge in the coal region.

And so far, he's done things right.

In his effort to build unity and teach the larger lessons in life, he has involved his team in the community. Players attended meetings of civic organizations, cleaned up downtown Shamokin on a Sunday afternoon and sent out Easter cards to thank people for their support of the football program.

He continually speaks about working as a team. About discipline. About being responsible for your actions.

He's learned about, not only football, but life from people like Joe Paterno, who - say what you will about the Jerry Sandusky scandal - has been held up by hundreds of players as a tremendous role model.

Besides Paterno, Yisrael has learned football from people like Bill Cowher with the Steelers, and he certainly has his own skills from a very successful career to pass along.

All that fails to mention his academic success at Penn State, and his career beyond football.

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Yisrael set the tone from day one, offering this at a meet-and-greet session in January: "I want to help Shamokin's kids to have success on and off the field."

He's proven since then that he's serious about that goal.

Fans of a young but promising Shamokin Area team would do well to keep that phrase in mind in the coming weeks, and join Yisrael in his long-range approach to teaching players about "winning" in life's most important ways.