Snapshot: Yaacov Yisrael

Snapshot: Yaacov Yisrael

Yaacov Yisrael, the rookie strong safety the Steelers signed in April out of Penn State, wants to set a few things straight.<br><br> One is his first name. The other is his health.

"Ya-COVE," he stressed to the reporter who waved him over with a "YACK-off."

"It's Hebrew for Jacob," Yisrael said. "My dad is Hebrew."

And his dad would have you know, too, that Ya-COVE's right knee is sound. Yisrael proved that last year when he led Penn State in solo tackles (57) and was second in total tackles (93) and interceptions (3).

"My highlight from college?" Yisrael repeated. "That was realizing how much I love the game after sitting out the year with a torn ACL. I learned a lot about myself as a person. I put a lot of time and effort into coming back, and I came back and had a pretty good season."

Yisrael (5-11, 198) came to Penn State in 1999 as a wide receiver out of the Chicago suburb of Palatine. He was the Palatine Athlete of the Year and a member of Chicagoland's finest 25 team.

He sat out his first season at Penn State with a redshirt but moved to cornerback in the spring of 2000 and was the back-up to Bhawah Jo. In the summer, he moved to hero, or strong safety, where he became the top back-up in the Penn State secondary.

Yisrael moved into the starting lineup in 2001 and made 71 tackles (47 solo). But off the field he was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence in November. He didn't tell Coach Joe Paterno, who found out about it after the season and fumed. At the time, Paterno said he'd suspend Yisrael for the first five games of 2002. It was the number of games Penn State had remaining in the 2001 season when Yisrael was arrested.

Paterno softened his stance by the end of the summer. Yisrael satisfactorily completed his ARD requirements and also posted straight A's in 12 credit hours of summer school. Paterno hinted he would drop the suspension at the August camp in 2002, but on the last day of camp Yisrael tore his right ACL in a skeleton drill and was lost for the season.

"I played since I was in fourth grade and never sat out because of injury," he said. "That was the first time and it lasted a year. That was rough. It was my junior season and I had a lot of expectations for myself and I had to sit out."

Yisrael came back last season and played well. His highlight was a two-interception first quarter against Iowa. The second interception put Penn State ahead, 7-0. Yisrael blitzed into a wide receiver screen, picked it off and returned the ball 83 yards for the score, but Penn State lost, 26-14.

Penn State also lost Yisrael's personal homecoming. He led Penn State in tackles in front of approximately 50 friends and relatives at Northwestern, but Northwestern won, 17-7. Penn State finished 3-9 last season.

"No one plays on winning teams every year. It's just a part of the game," Yisrael said. "I like Joe and I'm happy he's still coaching. I hope everything works out. I know the guys are excited. I'm looking forward to that turnaround."

Yisrael is a solid tackler and fine blitzer. And perhaps another year away from the knee injury will help his 4.64 40 time and pass-coverage skills. Yisrael has a chance, as his position coach with the Steelers, Darren Perry, would tell him.

Perry, of course, was drafted in the eighth round out of Penn State and enjoyed a solid career as an NFL safety.

"I just like the physical part of the game," Yisrael said. "Just after playing with Penn State and against great competition, I like the physical part of it. I like all aspects and at safety you can play the run, the pass, get in the box, out of the box, a little bit of everything.

"I'm just going day by day and trying to get better. I'm just trying to learn the system and compete."

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