Three decades ago Art Sandusky was a conductor on the streetcars of Washington, Pa. and, with his wife, Evie, the owner and operator of a hot dog stand. But when the streetcars were shut down, the Sanduskys found that pushing frozen custard and foot-long red-hots in the summer months wasn't providing the wherewithal to pay their bills the year round. So they signed up as live-in directors of the Brownson House, a local recreation center that was on the verge of being closed. After the Sanduskys and their 9-year-old son, Jerry, moved in, they persuaded the town fathers to keep Brownson House going. That was back in 1953, and they have been there ever since. This goes a long way toward explaining why their son, now the Penn State football team's defensive coordinator, is, at 38, the founder of The Second Mile, a charitable organization that recently opened a group home for six troubled boys in the State College, Pa. area. The home's name comes from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:41—"And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."
For 12 years Sandusky has been in charge of coaching linebackers at Penn State, a job roughly equivalent to teaching piano at Juilliard. A defensive end for the Nittany Lions from 1963 to '66, he became an assistant coach at Linebacker U. in 1969—in time to counsel 11 future pros, six of them All-Americas.
In 1977 Sandusky decided to begin writing a manual on his specialty, entitled Developing Linebackers the Penn State Way. He also decided that any profits would go to The Second Mile.
Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, who couldn't have children of their own, adopted a son in 1969. Since then they have adopted four more children—current ages five through 19—and have helped raise three foster children. For a time they were a host family each summer for children placed by the Fresh Air Fund of New York City. "After we had taken in some foster children," says Dottie, "we saw the opportunities that some kids just hadn't had. But we'd gotten to the point where we couldn't take in any more, so Jerry started thinking about starting a group home. The book seemed like a good opportunity to get it off the ground." (Since Developing Linebackers was published in 1981, it has netted about $15,000.)
December 6, 1982
The Sanduskys incorporated The Second Mile in 1977. With legal help donated by a Penn State professor, they were granted tax-exempt status, and by 1980 they had raised enough money, $64,000, to buy 20 acres of farmland two miles from Beaver Stadium. Several businesses agreed to chip in the supplies for building a house, and a local contractor agreed to build it for the cost of his labor.
Houseparents were hired last spring, and The Second Mile should have its full complement of six boys by early winter. With luck, says Ron Coder, the executive director of the home, another will be started in three years.
"Naive me," says Sandusky, "sitting back there five years ago saying, 'We're going to start a group home.' If I'd sat down then and said, 'It's going to take this and that, and this many people will have to be involved,' I probably wouldn't have done it. The toughest thing has been selling something that didn't exist. I think it will be easier now that we can say, 'Look, there it is: a home and a family for six kids who didn't have either one.' "
Sandusky's efforts in behalf of the home have come on top of his daily business of being one of the top defensive minds in America. He inherited the title of Mr. Linebacker from Dan Radakovich, who left Penn State for the University of Cincinnati in February of 1970. Sandusky has had a hand in developing All-Americas Jack Ham (1970), Charlie Zapiec (1971), John Skorupan (1972), Ed O'Neil (1973), Greg Buttle (1975) and Kurt Allerman (1976).
Part of Sandusky's success obviously stems from the Penn State linebacker tradition, which almost assures a fresh supply of top talent every year. That talent then gets top training from Sandusky. "The biggest thing is that he's a real technician," says Allerman, now a St. Louis Cardinal. "Day after day he stresses the fundamentals: keeping your shoulders square to the line when you move, using your hands to protect yourself from the low block and playing off blocks instead of running around them."
"He has great teaching ability," says Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno. "He has a gift for setting up the drills that will teach the kids to execute all the things we ask them to do as linebackers."
Sandusky attributes much of the success he has had to the character of the players he works with: "They're mostly leaders, kind of outgoing. Buttle, for one [now a New York Jet], kind of owned the place from the day he arrived. I told Greg he didn't know how slow he was—and he didn't. That's why he played so well, and that's why his teammates played so well. They played up to his expectations of them, and among other things, they beat Pitt 7-6 in his senior year when Pitt had Tony Dorsett."
Growing up in Brownson House, Sandusky had observed the same thing about troubled children. "So much of what happens depends on the care and concern that people show for them," he says. "I saw so many kids come through there who never really had a family or anybody to care about them or give them any guidance at all. It always bothered me."
It hasn't bothered Sandusky that The Second Mile thus far has kept him from leaving Penn State. "Many people have talked to me about hiring him," says Paterno, "but Jerry's been reluctant to talk to them because of all the commitments he has in this area." A couple of head-coaching jobs at the college level have come and gone, as well as inquiries from Oakland and Tampa Bay about interviewing Sandusky to become a pro assistant. "A long time ago Jerry really wanted to be a head coach," says Dottie, "but now there are so many things going that he never mentions it anymore."
"I'm concerned about his future," says Paterno, who spent 16 years as an assistant to Rip Engle at Penn State. "I'm proud of everything that he and Dottie have done, and I certainly wouldn't like to lose him, but I'd hate to see him lose his chance to be a head coach."
"The timing hasn't been right for me or my family," says Sandusky. "It might be someday. We believe the saying, 'It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it.' Dottie and I were disappointed when we couldn't have children, but we took it as a positive thing and it gave us an opportunity to do more."
"It's the way he's always been," says Sandusky's mother, Evie. "I guess it's his nature that he's never quite happy unless he's helping somebody else."