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Sports

West Shamokin coach also works with arena team

| Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008

It's normally a no-no for high school football coaches, but West Shamokin's Shawn Liotta recruits players with no penalty.

Liotta can get away with it because he's not courting players for his high school squad. He recruits for the other team he coaches -- the professional one.

Since 2006, Liotta has coached minor-league arena football with great success. After two seasons prowling the sidelines in the American Indoor Football Association, Liotta is third-winningest coach in league history, with a 17-11 record.

"It's great experience for me, as a young coach trying to move up," said Liotta, who's coached at West Shamokin for four years. "It's exposure to arena football. It's opened a lot of doors.

"After this year, I had probably 10 or 12 different job offers to different places around the country. But I have a family here, and I'm committed to coaching West Shamokin, so I wasn't looking to move anywhere."

Liotta coached his first indoor game in 2007 with the expansion Pittsburgh RiverRats, eventually leading the team to a 7-7 record and a playoff berth. The following season, the RiverRats moved to Erie and had even more success, tying for the division title at 10-4 and again reaching the playoffs.

Liotta has had former Pitt star Rod Rutherford as his quarterback for both of his arena seasons.

This season, Liotta took the head coaching job with the Wheeling Wildcats, an expansion team in the Continental Indoor Football League.

Taking charge of a first-year team is part of the reason Liotta has to carve out valuable time from his weekly preparation for WPIAL teams to recruit for the Wildcats. Expansion indoor teams in the minors begin from scratch. Unlike their counterparts in the top-level Arena Football League, they lack jerseys, helmets, playbooks and even players in the beginning.

But Liotta wouldn't have it any other way.

"I like to build expansion teams, because I get to build the whole thing," he said. "One thing I was proud of was that we went to the playoffs for the last two years as expansion teams in those leagues."

Of course, he's had quite a rebuilding project on his hands at West Shamokin.

The Wolves' record has never been above .500 in the program's nearly 10-year history. Heading into Friday's game against Valley, the team is 0-2 and has been outscored, 88-6.

But Liotta remains positive.

"I enjoy the opportunity of trying to turn this program around," Liotta said. "It's certainly been a battle, but we've made great progress here. I knew it was going to take a while to turn it around, with the shape the program was in when I got here, but we're on the right track."

Beyond leading players at different skill levels, one of the more unique challenges the coach faces is simply dealing with the varying natures of the high school and indoor games.

"The games are totally different," Liotta said. "The arena game is a totally strategically different game. It's not even comparable to outdoor. There are so many little nuances.

And Liotta insists that the busy schedule he keeps doesn't get in the way of the his responsibilities at West Shamokin.

"It gets hectic, but the nice thing about it is I love football," he said. "Anytime you can get paid to coach football is great. I can coach football year 'round. I enjoy it. ...

"Another thing I have is great assistants (at West Shamokin). That's one thing that allows me to do both."

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