Lance Mehl once considered Jerry Sandusky a model citizen.
"The man played a major role in my decision to attend Penn State University. I owe a great deal to coach Sandusky for developing my game and helping me get to the NFL," Mehl reflected over the phone late Tuesday evening.
This, following an exhausting day-long drive to and from Bellefonte, Pa., site of one of the most high-profile criminal trials in U.S. sports history.
Mehl, the former gridiron great at Bellaire High who went on to earn all-American honors at Happy Valley before an injury cut short an equally successful career with New York's Jets, was not displeased making the seven-hour round trip journey.
After all, the subpoena he received via certified mail requested Mehl's presence as a Sandusky character witness Tuesday morning.
"(They) expected me there by 9 a.m. so I was on the road before dawn," Mehl related. "I've had nothing but the ultimate respect for coach Sandusky over the years so I didn't mind driving (up there) to testify."
What Mehl didn't expect was a 'wham-bam, thank-you-mam' method of questioning by Sandusky's defense team. "They rattled off two or three questions and I gave them a fairly short answer. And it was over...just like that. I'd say in a minute or less."
Mehl acknowledged a long-running friendship with Sandusky, labeling him a class act in every respect.
When the prosecution failed to question him, Mehl was dismissed and cleared to drive back home. "On my way out, I stopped to talk briefly with a couple security people. But that was it...basically seven hours for a 60-second testimony."
None of which may be remotely close to saving Sandusky from spending his remaining years behind bars. Naturally, Mehl prefers not to go there.
When I quizzed him regarding the number of damaging testimonies on record, painting Sandusky as a serial child molester, Mehl admits he remains in denial.
"I haven't been following the case because it's almost impossible for me to believe," Mehl stated. "When the charges first went public, it was like a punch in the gut. My wife and I had trouble sleeping for two or three days."
Mehl and Sandusky's friendship evolved well beyond Mehl's playing days under the late Joe Paterno at State College.
Sandusky hosted an annual golf tournament with proceeds going towards his Second Mile Foundation, a non-profit organization for underprivileged youth.
Mehl frequently traveled to the event exclusively on Sandusky's behalf. "It wasn't unusual to see (Rush Run's) Bill Mazeroski and many NFL greats in the field," Mehl stated.
The Jerry Sandusky Mehl recalls from the 70's, 80's and beyond and the one currently on trial is difficult for Mehl to comprehend.
"It's overwhelming to imagine coach Sandusky being accused of those charges - much less going on trial to face them," Mehl disclosed.
At the same time, Mehl stressed Sandusky must pay a heavy price for his crimes should he be found guilty.
"No doubt, if coach Sandusky is truly guilty of these crimes, he must be punished...and punished severely," Mehl advised. "More than anything, I just want all of this to be over with."
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