Shane Israel said he didn't think he would make it this far.
But when the inaugural East-West All-Star Football Game kicks off Friday night in Louisville, Israel will be there. That's a testament to how far the former “bad kid” has come, even if he won't be one of the marquee names at the event.
Israel, who will play at Georgetown College this fall, doesn't have the name recognition of Frankfort's E.J. Fields, Lexington Catholic's Winston Guy or Henry Clay's Aaron Boyd, all of whom will play at Kentucky this season.
But Israel doesn't feel sorry for himself. Instead, he said, he is blessed to have made it this far after growing up as a self-described mischievous kid in government housing projects.
“I couldn't have ever imagined all of this,” Israel said. “For me to have the success I had (at Lexington Catholic) and make this All-Star game is amazing.”
Israel didn't always have that outlook. The youngest of Yael Israel's four children, he was the biggest troublemaker.
His mother described him as the first student to throw a paper wad across the classroom when the teacher turned away, the first one to launch food at another student across the cafeteria. Yael Israel said teachers who had taught her three other kids often asked whether Shane was really her son.
But when Shane Israel couldn't play football for Winburn Middle School because of his grades and his mischief, he began to straighten up.
He decided to go to Lexington Catholic, and his life changed. He was baptized at the end of his sophomore year, and his mother credited his decision with keeping him away from trouble.
“He just looks at things totally different,” Yael Israel said. “He just thinks a lot. He looks at what's right and what's wrong more so now than he did before.”
“I've changed a lot for the best,” Shane Israel said. “My mom sits at home and cries because of how far I've come and that I have this opportunity. I was a bad kid, and I've come a long way. I'm really disciplined now.”
As Shane Israel matured off the field, he became a star on it. He often misspells his name on purpose to play off the nickname his high school friends gave him: “Shane Is Real.”
He earned that nickname on the field where he scored the most touchdowns (79) in Lexington Catholic history. He rushed for 4,357 yards, good for second on the Knights' career list. He is also in the top 10 in scoring, receptions and touchdown receptions.
Israel rushed for 1,481 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior when Catholic won the Class 4A state title. He also started for the Knights' Class 3A champs in 2005.
Still, Israel didn't receive any NCAA Division I scholarship offers, in part because he stands 5-foot-6 and weighs 170 pounds. But the obstacles Israel overcame to stay on the field keep him from worrying about the calls he never got from big-time college coaches.
“To some people (receiving D-I offers) might be the world, but just to play, I'm happy,” Israel said. “I came from nothing, and now I've done all this. I'm just happy to be able to play the game I love.”
Israel will be a running back for the East in Friday's game, but he won't be out to prove that he can play on the same field as the top players in the game.
For Shane and Yael Israel, the game — and his future as a player — is about much more than what he might have to prove. It's a showcase for how far the “bad kid” has come and how far football has turned him in the right direction.
“He flipped all the way around,” Yael Israel said as she choked back tears. “He tried as hard as he can. He might not be a valedictorian, but he tried. He's done wonderful.
“I am so proud of him.”