EAST PALESTINE - A South Range teacher is taking the reins of the East Palestine football team.
On Sunday, the board of education awarded a two-year contract to Tony Foster, a 1994 East Palestine High School graduate.
Foster teaches social studies at South Range High School and for the last three years has served as the Raiders assistant varsity coach and head coach for the freshman team.
During that time he coached the varsity defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and running backs. As freshman head coach he was responsible for teaching fundamentals and increasing the program's participation.
He hopes to do the same for the Bulldogs.
"It will be nice to get things turned around and keep it that way. The first place I need to start is with recruiting kids in the school," he said.
The Bulldogs had a roster of about 28 last season and went 2-8.
Foster said he hopes to increase the roster to at least 50, which is a few players less than South Range had on its roster last year.
"If nine through 12th grade numbers hover around 50, that's where you need to be to be successful," he said.
Encouraging students to join the team comes down to making them realize that football is a sport they won't always have an opportunity to play.
"In the grand scheme of things you have a short window of opportunity to play football with your high school friends," he said.
As students reach adulthood they can always meet friends at a gym or other athletic facility to play basketball or other sports, but not football, he explained.
After graduating from East Palestine High School, Foster took advantage of his opportunity to extend his football career, playing under coach John Lockhardt at Washington Jefferson College between 1994 and 1998.
It was there that he played for a national championship and won three Presidents Athletic Conference titles in four years.
A year after finishing college he landed an assistant coaching position for the Hilliard Darby High School near Columbus, where he remained until 2005. He and his family returned to East Palestine in 2007.
Foster said he will continue teaching at South Range while coaching the Bulldogs, but he hopes to one day teach in East Palestine as well.
He believes his experience in the classroom translates well onto the field.
"One of the special things about coaching and teaching is the rapport you get with players," he said. "There are a lot of life lessons that you can learn and values you get from football."
Superintendent George Fisk said one of the reasons why Foster was selected was his ability to connect with students, and that shouldn't be too difficult since as a former graduate, he has walked the same halls.
"He's going to be a great role model," he said.
Board members were in agreement on the hire.
Foster will make about $5,070 a year on the two-year contract, Treasurer Rick Ellis said.
The district had received about 30 applications for the position that became available at the end of the 2012 season after Gare Mattes resigned.
Former Bulldogs coach Brian Blevins was also being considered for the position but withdrew his application.
Fisk said Blevins, a Dayton-area resident, didn't give a reason for the withdrawal.
"I'm glad to be on board. I'm committed to staying here for the long haul and I'll be dedicated to the success of the program," Foster said.