Yonatan Marmour, at 19 years old, became the first Israeli football player to play on a Division I college football team when he joined the Youngstown University football team this week as an offensive lineman.
Division I colleges don’t come to Israel on football recruitment trips. However, Yonatan spent the last six months training at Clearwater Academy International, an American program which offers professional-level coaching and competition for international athletes who aspire to play sports professionally in America. Yonatan’s coach, Jesse Chinchar, was so impressed with his skills and dedication that he sent tapes of Yonatan’s performances to colleges with strong football programs, leading Youngstown University to draft Yonatan.
Yonatan can’t wait to begin playing at Youngstown. “The level of competition will be incredible and practices will be insane,” and he is thrilled to play at a school “with four national titles and an incredible football program.”
There will be a few things that are new to Yonatan while at Youngstown. First, the weather. Israel’s winters can be rainy but are comparatively warm. “Playing football in Ohio during winter is a totally different thing,” said Yonatan. “Playing in cold weather usually doesn’t happen when playing football in Israel.” Further proving how much of an adjustment it will be for him, Youngstown University’s stadium is nicknamed the “Ice Castle,” a testament to how cold Ohio winters are.
The second new aspect for Yonatan will be the length of the football field itself. While the Israeli high school football league plays on an 80-yard field, professional and college fields are 100 yards long.
Every day while training at Clearwater, Yonatan proudly displayed an Israeli flag on his backplate. On the day of his signing with Youngstown, Yonatan proudly wore an Israeli flag lapel pin. He is extremely honored to represent Israel while playing football at Youngstown. “I am a very proud Israeli. I love Israel and I want others to know and feel that too,” Yonatan said.
In 2019, Yonatan was one of the lucky few people in Israel to meet fellow Jewish football player Julian Edelman, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots. At the time, Edelman was visiting Israel with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft on Kraft’s third “Touchdown Israel” trip. These VIP trips bring retired and current football players to Israel to experience Israel’s history, culture and football.
American Football in Israel is the nationally recognized organization which oversees all football activities in Israel including the Israel Football League, the Israel High School Football League (where Yonatan played), both the men’s and women’s flag football leagues, and the national football and flag football teams.
These leagues and teams all receive sponsorship from the Kraft Family Foundation, which also built the Kraft Family Stadium, a 60-yard football field, in Jerusalem in 2008. Iin 2017, the foundation also built the Kraft Family Sports Campus in the Arazim Valley in Jerusalem, which includes two soccer fields and the first regulation 100-yard football field with endzones and goalposts.
Similar to all Israeli citizens, Yonatan is required to serve in the Israeli army following high school. Yonatan is currently serving as a sportai illuy (ספורטאי עילוי), or elite athlete, which allows him to play a sport abroad for three years, with an optional fourth year. Upon completing his four years abroad, Yonatan is then required to return to Israel and fulfill his military requirement.
While growing up in Maplewood, New Jersey, Yonatan was a New York Giants fan who loved watching tapes of his favorite NFL player and Giants star linebacker, Lawrence Taylor. After Yonatan’s family made aliyah to Mitzpeh Nitofa while he was in high school, he was looking for a sport to fit his six-foot, three-inch, 245-pound build and was pleasantly surprised to find that Israel had a high school football league. After playing in the league for just one year, Yonatan made Israel’s national football team, and during his second year of play, he received the Best Defensive Player award.
Yonatan hopes that his playing football in a Division I school will help advance football in Israel, encouraging more people to play football and giving young Israeli football players someone to look up to and know that they, too, could have the opportunity to play at a higher level of competitive football outside of Israel.
On January 11, Yonatan began playing football at Youngstown University. While he will remain focused on his new football journey and proudly represent Israel along the way, there is one big thing that he will miss about football in Israel: Israeli falafel, as “there is no falafel like real Israeli falafel.”
Danielle grew up in Teaneck, and made aliyah to Jerusalem following her graduation from Rutgers University. Danielle teaches English at colleges in Jerusalem and has been involved in both formal and informal education for a variety of organizations. Danielle believes that important life skills and lessons are often not ones learned in the classroom, but can be learned from team sports.