Yaacov Yisrael smiled when asked if he ever thought, back in his high school days in Palatine, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, that he'd find himself coaching high school football in rural Pennsylvania some day.

Shamokin Area's newest football coach chuckled and said something very wise.

"One thing I've learned is the moment you think you have things figured out, you find out you don't," Yisrael said.

Which is another way of saying you just never know where life is going to take you.

As an outstanding high school player, Yisrael was highly recruited. Listening to him speak Monday after he was introduced as Shamokin's new coach, it's not surprising he chose to play college football at Penn State. Despite all the knocks Penn State and the late Joe Paterno have taken in wake of the Jerry Sandusky case, the fact remains, Mark Emmert notwithstanding, that the Nittany Lions graduate most of their players and attract perhaps a little different breed to State College.

Yisrael was a successful college player but smart enough to know that his odds of playing professionally were long.

"I was a fellow who was always an undersized player," he said. "I really had to learn the game in order to play."

Learning the game prepared him for a coaching career that he wasn't even sure he wanted.

At Penn State, he met and fell in love with a field hockey player from, of all places, Line Mountain. The next thing he knew, Yisrael found himself married to Jill Martz and even deeper in rural Pennsylvania than State College. Employed full time in the real estate management field, Yisrael caught the bug to coach. He assisted Sam Stroh at Shikellamy, then was an assistant at Halifax for two seasons before becoming head coach there for two years.

Based on reports from Halifax sources, the Wildcats' loss should be the Indians' gain.

"He could have gone 4-6 every year and coached here for 40 years," one Halifax resident said.

An employee of the Halifax district told a Shamokin Area employee that Yisrael was loved in Halifax, and that Halifax Athletic Director Gay Boyer, whom Yisrael praised, tried her best to get him to stay.

Maybe all that means is that football isn't taken quite as seriously in Halifax as it is in Shamokin, and the people there were happy to have a guy who treated the kids well, taught them life lessons as well as football, and got the most out of what he had to work with.

Ultimately, the call of coaching at a bigger school, with better facilities and more demanding fans, was a challenge Yisrael couldn't resist.

But the bigger challenge is to the school board, school officials and mostly, to Shamokin parents and fans, to be wise enough to get out of the way for oh, about 10 years or so, and let Yisrael and whoever ends up on his staff do the coaching, teaching and disciplining.

That's a challenge they always seem to fail.

Lance's biggest discretion

My mother is 90 years old. She was raised during the Great Depression, lost a brother when she was 17 and almost lost her father, a PPL worker, to an electrical accident before she was 20. She began working during the rationing years of World War II and spent 57 of her 63 married years deftly handling one of the toughest unpaying jobs ever created, that of a preacher's wife.

She's never knowingly hurt anyone in her life (except for myself and the sisters when she occasionally took a ruler or a ping-pong paddle to our backsides when we misbehaved) that I know of.

So when she talks, I still listen.

"I looked up to that Lance Armstrong," she mused the other day. "He beat cancer. And it turns out he's nothing but a liar. I'm starting to lose my faith in people, and I don't like that."

That, Mr. Armstrong, should shame you as much as anything.

(Chuck Souders is a sports writer for The News-Item. His column appears every Friday.)