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Springfield grad reacts to scandal

Isaac Smolko played at Penn State from 2001-06

November 8, 2011
MICHAEL S. BURICH - Staff Writer , Salem News

DALLAS - Isaac Smolko doesn't remember the first time he met former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, but the Springfield Local High School graduate said it was not uncommon to see him around the Penn State football facilities during his playing days with the Nittany Lions.

Sandusky, who is now at the center of a firestorm involving alleged sexual abuse of many young boys, had retired from coaching in 1999. Smolko entered his freshman year at Penn State during 2001.

"I saw him at least once a week in the building," Smolko said. "We didn't talk a lot, but he seemed like a nice guy."

Smolko, whose playing career at Penn State lasted until 2006, said he usually saw Sandusky in the weight room "riding a bike or whatever."

The thought that the man had potentially done all of the things he is accused of shocked Smolko when he found out about it on Saturday while working as an orthopedic sales consultant in Dallas.

"I was shocked," Smolko said. "I mean how do you react to something like that? It just floors you. You don't believe what you hear at first."

Smolko, an ex-NFL player with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens, said he didn't have immediate access to the gruesome grand jury report making the rounds on the Internet, but he said he was disgusted when he finally sat down and read it.

"It's disturbing," Smolko said.

The alleged March 1, 2002 incident involving Sandusky and a boy in the Penn State locker room showers hit a little close to home for Smolko. It has been reported that graduate assistant Mike McQueary, a former Penn State quarterback, witnessed Sandusky allegedly having sex with a boy in the showers on that evening.

Smolko said McQueary, now an assistant coach with Penn State, worked with the tight ends during that point in his career.

"I worked with Mike every day," Smolko said. "We spent a lot of time with him, but he never mentioned anything about it."

Smolko said he didn't remember McQueary being distraught or troubled during that time period. He said there was no buzz or rumors in the lockers about the alleged incident.

"It makes me not want to believe something," Smolko said about the report. "I don't see any human or man of that stature seeing anything like that and not doing anything about it. I do think you might get a weird, freaked out reaction at first, but as man and human I would like to think I would have done something more at the time."

McQreary was said to have told Penn State head coach Joe Paterno about the incident the next morning. Although Smolko thought he would have done something more if he was in the same situation, he did caution that there was no way of knowing how he would react given the same circumstances.

"I think the (graduate assistant) did everything right except for stepping in at the moment," Smolko said. "You have no idea how you're going to react at that moment. You want to think you would react in a 'take action' sort of manner, but I really can't say one way or the other since I wasn't the one that was in that situation."

Smolko also said he never had anything to do with Sandusky's Second Mile charity. He has no idea how this will all play out, but he doesn't see anything good coming out of it.

"I believe it's going to (change things at Penn State)," Smolko said. "What's going to occur? I don't know. I'm not the one making those decisions. It's going to shake things up. It's going to have a very negative effect on the program. Personally, though, the most important thing is getting justice for the children involved. If the program falls apart, but every one of these kids somehow don't have to deal with this anymore, it's worth it in my opinion."

Smolko, whose wife Katie is expecting the couple's first child in April, said he wasn't very close with Paterno during his playing days at Penn State. Even though, he said that he hopes this crisis doesn't ruin his old coach's legacy.

"There are so many disturbing accounts coming out that I just hope that he had no idea of what was going on," Smolko said. "I hope his legacy isn't tainted by disgusting acts by Sandusky. I don't think he's one that will use his influence to do something he knows that is not right. He's like most people, really. Most people would find this disturbing and disgusting and I can promise you that's the way Joe feels about this."



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