KNOXVILLE- Two coaches from the Israel football league are hoping to see every snap under the Friday night lights this season. Noam Dalal and Ariel Back aren't just here to learn the Xs and Os -- they also hope to take back a culture.
“We come from a non-football country. So we walk around and tell people we play ball and they ask us what football is,” Back said.
That’s a question you probably won’t hear in the heart of SEC Country. While they may not have as many fans, it doesn’t mean the players aren’t just as passionate.
“The big difference is the players who are on the team, love the sport,” Dalal said.
Back said no player has ever been paid. Instead, they take money out of their own pockets to pay fees. It's all for their love of the game.
“You don’t find an Israeli player who doesn’t absolutely love the game because they just wouldn’t be there,” he said.
And the growth of the game overseas is coming from here in East Tennessee. Last year, the Vols donated its equipment to the Israel Football League. It happened after the Vols switched sponsorships from Adidas to Nike.
That means there’s a lot of Big Orange spirit overseas.
“Right now, they’re the most favorite college team in all of Israel because of their help.” We love the Vols with good reason,” Dalal said.
In addition, several area high school teams have donated equipment.
Dan Phillips is a coach at Bearden High School. He’s also the coaching coordinator for the IFL. He says the donations help launch more teams in Israel.
“We’re going to increase from 9 to 11 teams in the high school league this year because we finally have enough equipment to do that," Phillips said. "The equipment donations are critical for us to forming additional teams. You can’t go to sport stores and buy football equipment."
Phillips and his family are hosting the two coaches through the high school football season. He said Israel is learning the game, and it’s helping to break down barriers.
“You have Orthodox Jews, Arab Christians and Arab Muslims all on the same team. They don’t care. Once the football jerseys go on, the only thing they care about is that they’re teammates,” he said.
Phillips said it’s also turning rivals into teammates in East Tennessee. This summer 19 players from the IFL came for a 10 day camp. Grace Christian Academy provided the buses to transport the players to CAK where they were coached by coaches from both schools, as well as Bearden.
“I don’t think you’ll see that anywhere else, in Knoxville certainly. Not this time of year,” he said.
The two Israeli football coaches are getting to witness that first-hand. They’ll be here through mid-November to see the entire season. They are living with Phillips and his family and the two coaches are grateful for their generosity.
“He has a little sign at his house that says miracles happen, which is kind of ironic because he made them happen for us,” Back said.
Phillips said it’s an honor to host the coaches.
“The energy they bring into the house and their passion for coaching brings a lot of life. We’re going to be sad come November.”