Bellaire native Mehl speaks out on Sandusky
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two pieces involving Bellaire native and St. Clairsville resident Lance Mehl and his thoughts on the case at Penn State University, involving his former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. Thursday’s piece will focus on Mehl’s thoughts on where current head coach Joe Paterno falls in this issue and the future of the program.
Former Penn State linebacker Lance Mehl couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Though he admits he had heard accusations and rumors about former Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky more than a year ago, the former Bellaire Big Red and New York Jet, when he formally heard the charges brought forth on his defensive coordinator with the Nittany Lions, it was more a feeling of disbelief.
“This kind of thing takes on a different perspective when you think you’ve known someone,” Mehl said. “This is just crazy. It’s really disheartening because it’s someone who I looked up to and learned so much from.”
Mehl played at Penn State from 1976-1979 and was actually recruited to Happy Valley by Sandusky, who eventually called Mehl, ‘one of the best inside linebackers’ ever to play for ‘Linebacker U.’
“Jerry was down here (in the Ohio Valley) several times recruiting me,” Mehl said. “He probably contacted me once every couple of weeks. If he wasn’t here, he was sending me letters. Knowing him the way I did through that and in college and to see this is just mind-blowing. It’s so sad, it’s unbelievable.”
During his recruitment, Mehl and Sandusky very rarely talked about football.
“We talked about life and what you wanted to do after college because back then, there wasn’t the money in professional football like there is now, so a lot of guys went to college for the education and just played football.”
When he was playing for Sandusky, who was issued a speeding ticket racing to the football facility to inform Paterno that Mehl had verbally committed, Mehl quickly realized the coach’s approach to life and sports didn’t change from what it was during the recruiting process.
“He was always upbeat,” Mehl said. “I can remember him coming to yell at me with a smile on his face, so you didn’t know if he was really mad or not. He’s the main reason I ended up going to Penn State. He took an interest in you as a human and not just as a football player.”
Sandusky, who was long considered the next in line to replace Joe Paterno when the legendary coach retired, was charged last Saturday with seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, all first-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
“I was (at work) when I heard about it and guys were looking at the story online, and it’s hard for me to say what I was thinking when I heard the news,” Mehl said. “I had heard the accusations, but just bits and pieces, and I figured at that time it was just someone making claims with hopes of getting money, so I didn’t ask for specifics or anything. But when indictments come down, it’s a whole new ballgame. The depth and amount of charges from this just made me sick to my stomach.”
Mehl admits he hasn’t stayed as close to the Nittany Lions’ program as some alumni, but he did see and talk with Sandusky at a golf outing this summer. He actually took part in almost all of the fundraising outings Sandusky hosted for his charitable organization, The Second Mile. At that time, he could tell, just through his mannerisms, that something was weighing on Sandusky.
“We talked for a few minutes, but I didn’t ask him about any of the accusations that I heard or anything,” Mehl said. “How could something like that not be weighing on you? He was always such a good guy, you would have never thought something like this would have been an issue.”
The last time – and only time – Mehl has been back to campus for a PSU game was in 1994 when the Nittanys took on Michigan when he took his three oldest sons to a game. He went through Sandusky for tickets.
“I remember it was snowing and after the game went to Jerry’s house for dinner,” Mehl said. “He and his wife Dottie invited us to stay there, but I didn’t want my kids running around like mad men, so we decided to head back. That’s just the type of people they were. I feel really bad for his wife and kids.”
Sandusky attended Mehl’s wedding and his Dapper Dan induction ceremony, of which Mehl was quite appreciative.
“Those are the things I remember and the guy I want to remember,” Mehl said. “Jerry is the type of guy that I felt I could call and he’d help out anyway he could.”
Mehl, who works with kids in the C-Cap program, has spent countless hours since the news broke Saturday trying to put this into perspective, but his association with kids is making it tough.
“(Sandusky) may be a monster … I don’t know,” Mehl admitted. “Part of me wants to believe there’s no way he did this because this isn’t the Jerry I knew, but that person could have been a lie the entire time. I don’t know.”
Still unable to fully grasp it, even now, Mehl called the entire case, “stunning, sickening and just not right.”
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org