JOE PATERNO says, "If this [the horrific charges against Jerry Sandusky] is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families."

Scores of professionals? Did they get the chance to study the facts? Who approached them? And when?

Meanwhile, you can add one angry sports columnist to that list of deceived people. I first met Jerry Sandusky when I wrote a documentary in 1969 for Triangle Syndication called "More than X's, More Than O's," which depicted a week in the life of Penn State football.

He left the coaching staff in 1999 and continued his work with at-risk kids at The Second Mile, the foundation he established in 1977. In 2001, he wrote a book called "Touched" and I reviewed it for the Daily News. During the phone interview, I asked Sandusky whether he left the coaching staff when he found out he was not going to succeed Joe Paterno as head coach.

He grumbled, he shouted, he resented the question. I backed off, because I had planned to write a positive piece about a guy helping disadvantaged kids. Little did I know.

Here is that column:

Jerry Sandusky has a heart bigger than Texas. Gives whole chunks of it to kids at risk. Finds foster homes for them; recruits mentors for them; arranges healthy, constructive things for them to do.

Jerry and Dottie Sandusky adopted six kids of their own, while helping thousands of others through The Second Mile, a charitable foundation he organized. Was the defensive coordinator at Penn State for 23 years. Retired after the 1999 season.

And now he has written a book, with Kip Richeal, a former Penn State equipment manager. It is called "Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story."

So, what's it like, coaching under Joe Paterno for 32 years? Does JoePa growl, does he screech behind closed doors? Is he a second-guessing grump or does he delegate responsibilities willingly and graciously? What's with those generic uniforms, the white socks he wears on the sideline that show beneath his rolled-up trousers?

You won't find the answers in "Touched." The few times Paterno is mentioned in the book, he's scolding Sandusky for goofing off, for being too loose, too outgoing.

"I don't know if it was intentional," Sandusky hedged. "I was just recollecting the things I remembered the most, giving credit to guys who seldom get credit.

"He [Paterno] is an amazing man. He's an extremely intense competitor, a very proud man. It amazes me that he can maintain his competitive edge for all those years and still enjoy the thrill of competition the way he does. He's very bright and obviously a great football coach."

In the book, Sandusky blames himself for the 1999 loss to Minnesota that started a three-game, season-ending slide for the Nittany Lions. Writes gloomily about getting talked out of a fourth-down blitz call in the shocking loss to Minnesota.

Others think a timid offensive call late in that game made the difference and triggered the three-game slide. Sandusky never mentions that theory.

"I always focused on what we, the defense, needed to do to win a football game," he explained. "I didn't think about the offensive side of the ball or what they were doing."

No grenades in the book, no poking under some rug for long-buried dirt. That's not Sandusky's style. And besides, he was in the hunt for the Virginia job before it went to Al Groh, so this would be a wretched time for bridge-burning.

"It would have to be the right opportunity," Sandusky said. "I'm happy with what I'm doing. The Second Mile is important to me. We've helped 100,000 kids."

One of those kids is named Jamie. He struggled through special-education classes and graduated from high school. Attended Sandusky's summer camps happily. After graduation, Jamie got a minimum-wage job. Later in life, he sent a $100 contribution to The Second Mile, "so that other kids could enjoy what he had."

Sandusky's parents ran a recreation center in Washington, Pa., a town so small, the telephone book was thinner than a slice of toast.

"I saw what that meant to so many people," Sandusky said. "Doing something like that was always in the back of my mind. We took in foster children. We saw some lives change. I thought, 'Maybe I can do more.' "

Jerry and Dottie did more. They adopted six kids. It ain't easy, with so many temptations out there, so many distractions, so much twisted peer pressure.

"Kids are exposed to so much more these days," Sandusky sighed. "They grow up so much faster, have so many options. It's a challenge. But kids still want discipline, still seek positive attention.

"Adoption, that's an opportunity to enrich your own life and hopefully enrich the life of another. It's been a very positive experience for us. A kid is a kid. Sometimes it's easier to deal with kids who don't have your own genes."

It's all there in the book, Sandusky's humble roots, his staunch loyalty, his large heart. The kids he has reached out to have been touched, indeed.

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