"Look, you wanna hustle pool, don't you? This game isn't like football. Nobody pays you for yardage. When you hustle you keep score real simple. The end of the game you count up your money. That's how you find out who's best. That's the only way." — George C. Scott as Bert Gordon in the iconic billiards movie, The Hustler
Jacob Kohl knows all about pool and football.
Cocalico’s senior isn’t hustling for cash on the pool table like the crew in “The Hustler” just yet. But he has billiards in his blood. Football, too. After taking his junior pigskin season off to travel the country playing in pool tournaments last year, Kohl is back at his familiar safety spot playing defense for the Eagles this fall.
“Pool is something he enjoyed doing and something he really wanted to do,” Cocalico coach Bryan Strohl said. “I think he missed football. He’s a smart kid, and when you’re playing safety for us, that’s basically the quarterback of our defense. You need to understand what’s going on. He’s come a long way quickly enough that we were comfortable starting him right away last week. He isn’t afraid to take charge.”
In the defensive secondary on the football field, and especially with his trusty pool cue chalked up and a fresh game of 9-ball in the rack and ready to go. Kohl picked up his pool prowess from his dad, Jessie.
“He said I started playing before I could even see over the table,” Kohl said. “He said I used to drag a little stool around the table so I could be tall enough to shoot. And I was always carrying my own little cue. I don’t even remember that anymore.”
The lifetime of practice is paying off. Kohl said he started taking pool more seriously when he was 13. That’s about the same time football came along, and it turned out he was pretty good at that sport, too.
After getting some varsity time in his sophomore season for the Eagles, Kohl decided not to come back to the football team for his junior campaign last fall so he could focus on billiards. His family refurbished a barn on their property, adding four pool tables so Kohl could perfect his craft.
He’s spent the last couple of years playing in two different tour events, the Junior International Championships and the Billiard Education Foundation. And since he had sponsorship for JIC events last year, Kohl picked pool over the gridiron.
JIC has monthly stops around the country, featuring double-elimination 9-ball tournaments. For those trips, Kohl would usually fly out with his parents on a Thursday and play in the 18-under field through the weekend. He’s played in JIC events in Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Las Vegas and many more locales.
“I was all over the place last year,” Kohl said. “It was a great experience. I kind of regret missing football last year, but I got to travel and see the country.”
While shooting a lot of pool and making a name for himself in the junior circuit in the process. Some highlights: Kohl finished fourth in the Ohio state juniors and fifth in the Maryland state juniors, and in the BEF, he earned a second-place finish in the 18-under 8-ball tourney at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas.
Kohl said his favorite pool games are rotational — 8-ball, 9-ball, 10-ball, etc. — and he’s even dabbled with trick shots. Once he finally shed the stool and smaller cue and soaked up all the billiard knowledge he could from his dad, Kohl started entering tournaments and working his way up the ranks.
“First few times out when I was playing in tournaments, I was really nervous,” he said. “When you’re competing against other juniors, you want them to know that you’re just as good as them.”
Kohl qualified for the JIC top-16 tour championship last year but couldn’t go because he was entered in another tournament. This year, he is currently 11th in tour points with two more JIC events to go. But because he’s back playing football with the Eagles, Kohl will not be making those trips.
“I’m OK with it,” said Kohl, who has the option of turning pro when he turns 18 in two months. “It’s my senior year, and I’ll be able to go back and play (pool) next year.”
Kohl’s final JIC appearance came earlier this summer, when he missed some football practice time — and Cocalico’s scrimmage against Ephrata — to play in Iowa. But for now, he’s staying put at his home base in Stevens, while prepping for Friday’s football game, when Cocalico takes on Solanco in Quarryville.
Last month, Kohl played in a local pool tourney in Ephrata. In a field of 32, he was the lone junior with cue in hand. And he won, beating out 31 adults. So yeah, he can play.
“It’s funny,” Strohl said, chuckling. “I played pool a little bit growing up at Ephrata Rec Center and in college. But that was about it.”
Now he’s coaching a kid who has traveled the country, sinking shots in back-road pool halls with trophies and scholarship money as prizes on the table. No hustling just yet, like “The Hustler” guys. But Kohl certainly has game. On the football field, too.