Ed O'Neil was an All-American linebacker for Joe Paterno in the early 1970s.
O'Neil's linebacker coach was Jerry Sandusky.
It's easy to understand why O'Neil feels "emotionally tied" to what's going on at Penn State University.
He nearly broke down during an interview on Thursday, a day after it was announced that coach Paterno was fired amid a child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State involving Sandusky.
"It's tearing up my heart," O'Neil said of the allegations. O'Neil was a Warren Area High School standout football player, and Warren County Sports Hall of Famer who played seven seasons in the NFL as a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions.
"I think what affects me emotionally the most, when you look at it, is (Sandusky has) had 10 first-team All-Americans, and one of those All-Americans is me. I impacted his life and he impacted my life, and to think these allegations are true, to me it's mind-boggling."
O'Neil said he was called by a friend and told, "Jerry was going to be arrested for child abuse allegations. I couldn't believe it. I thought, 'there's no way that Jerry Sandusky, that coached Ed O'Neil, was this kind of person.'"
O'Neil remembers Sandusky "waiting for me at the door," he said, "and I can still see him (standing there). He was a 28-, 29-, 30-year-old guy who graduated from Penn State eight or nine years before I did; he was full of excitement, full of tenacity in his teaching and wanting to help us out," said O'Neil.
The former Penn State linebacker said he owed the fact he played in the NFL, in part, to Sandusky.
In later years, O'Neil supported Sandusky's State College children's charity, The Second Mile, through donations or by participating in events like charity golf tournaments.
In recent days, O'Neil has read the Grand Jury Report on Jerry Sandusky multiple times, and "talked with more players the last three days than I've talked to in the last three years," he said.
"I've thought of, if I called Jerry, what would I say to him," said O'Neil. "I don't know. I'm sure in Jerry's mind this is all a bunch of lies, or possibly he would be looking for a plea agreement here. I'd ask him, 'How much of this am I supposed to believe?' I want to believe none of it."
O'Neil also acknowledges there may be more victims than in the Grand Jury Report. He's having a hard time with the fact a number of people in positions of authority may have been able to stop the alleged abuse at any point over the years.
"You have to have consideration for these victims," he said. "Those are the ones that have really had their entire lives changed because of one man that allegedly did all of this. I'm a father, I have six grandsons and my seventh one is coming any day now. As a father, raising your kids, I often thought about words Jerry would tell me about raising kids. I know people looked up to Jerry."
That said, O'Neil said the allegations against Sandusky won't change the man he, himself, has become.
"I do work with some camps in the off-season," said O'Neil, who now helps coach high school football in Niagara County, N.Y. He has been a high school, major college and professional football coach. "When I talk to the parents, I tell them, 'I'm a husband, I'm a father, I'm a grandfather, and I happen to coach football... We're entrusted to take care of those kids, the parents trust us, trust us to do those things that are right.
"I learned values at Penn State," said O'Neil, pausing for several seconds, overcome with emotion. "I'm proud to say that I got to play at Penn State. I'm proud that I got to play for Joe, and for Jerry. Certainly, what's going on today, I'm a Penn State linebacker, I can't change that. What's going on doesn't tarnish my love. I'm sure I'm going to wear my Penn State hat. But it does change how people perceive me. If so, that's fine. All we should really care about is those families and kids that have been suffering for however long this has been going on. Those are the people that it has truly affected their lives."
O'Neil, a former Nittany Lion team captain, has had tickets to Saturday's Penn State home football game with Nebraska for months, and he's still going.
He thinks the immediate firing of Paterno was the right decision for the university.
"The fact the coach has been fired, to me, is something I believe had to be done, because, in my small way of knowing very little about the law, Joe couldn't say anything about anything until after all of this is (over). Because of who Joe is, I believe it was probably the only thing the university could have done to stop the press onslaught. If you watched (interim head) coach (Tom) Bradley in his interview this morning, they asked him the same thing three or four times.
"Based on what you read (in the Grand Jury Report), I wasn't there," said O'Neil. "What I would do in that situation, I don't know because I've never been in this situation. I can't imagine anyone witnessing what Mike McQueary (is reported to have witnessed). Should anybody be culpable (from Mike McQueary to Joe Paterno to Tom Curley to Gary Schultz to Graham Spanier), until it's proven that is exactly what happened in a court of law, how could anybody be culpable?
"I'm not sure how I'm going to react (on Saturday)," he said. "It doesn't change the relationships I've had with the players I played with at Penn State. It may change the topic of conversation."