By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mentor to underprivileged children or serial child molester? For former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, a trial will now decide.
Sandusky, who masterminded fearsome defenses at Pennsylvania State University for 23 years, shocked a courtroom on Tuesday with his own defensive move. He waived his preliminary hearing - and now goes straight to trial on 52 counts of child molestation.
Reaching for a football metaphor, the 67-year-old former coach told reporters: "We fully intend to put together the best possible defense that we can do, to stay the course, to fight for four quarters."
The courtrooms and jail cells where Sandusky has often been since he was charged in early November are far from the high-pressure world of big-time college football, where he ran with the winners at Penn State.
And he lavished the perks of his success on young boys. He started a charity, The Second Mile, to help needy children and often befriended boys, giving them presents and access to the glamour of sports that even rich kids could only dream of.
In his 2001 autobiography, "Touched," Sandusky describes how he and his wife, Dottie, also adopted one of those boys from The Second Mile, his youngest son Matt, whom Sandusky met through the charity when the boy was 7 or 8 years old.
Sandusky now faces 52 counts of sexual abuse of 10 young boys the reports the grand jury says he recruited from The Second Mile.
If convicted on all counts, Sandusky could be sentenced to more than 500 years in prison. He has denied any wrongdoing and is free on $250,000 bail.
Known for his animated sideline behavior, Sandusky reveled in his image as a spontaneous coach with a wild side.
"I thrived on testing the limits of others and I enjoyed taking chances in danger," Sandusky wrote in his autobiography of a personality trait that began as a boy.
The son of a couple that ran a recreation center in Washington, Pennsylvania, Sandusky played football for four years at Penn State.
He spent 32 years as an assistant to revered head coach Joe Paterno and retired in 1999.
As defensive overseer, Sandusky dialed up blitzes and helped Penn State win national championships in 1982 and 1986. He was named assistant coach of the year in 1986 and 1999 by prestigious football groups.
Sandusky was especially famed for making Penn State known as "Linebacker U," producing 10 All-Americans at the position during his tenure.
In the Alamo Bowl, the Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M 24-0 in Sandusky's last game as a Penn State coach.
The grand jury alleges that a child identified in the report as "Victim 4" made the trip to that bowl game as part of Sandusky's family party.
"Sandusky did threaten to send him home from the Alamo Bowl in Texas when Victim 4 resisted his advances," the grand jury said. Victim 4 also traveled to the Outback Bowl the previous year.
Two grand jury reports allege that Sandusky molested the boys from as early as 1994 until 2009.
Some alleged victims frequently stayed overnight at Sandusky's home. Sandusky gave them presents, including a snowboard, Nike shoes, golf clubs, football jerseys, dress clothes and a computer, and took them to sporting events such as Philadelphia Eagles games and to church, the reports said.
Sandusky is alleged to have had physical contact with the boys ranging from tickling and a "soap battle" in Penn State showers to oral and anal sex, according to the grand jury reports.
As part of the retirement package negotiated with the university, Sandusky had access to Penn State football facilities.
An 11th alleged victim, a 29-year-old man, has also filed a civil suit against Sandusky, The Second Mile and Penn State. He alleged that Sandusky had abused him more than 100 times.
TURNED DOWN JOB OFFERS
Sandusky was considered for several college head coaching jobs. He told Sports Illustrated in 1999 he had stayed at Penn State because of his family, his work with The Second Mile and the chance to succeed Paterno as head coach.
Sandusky and his wife Dottie have six adopted children -- Ray, E.J., Kara, Jeff, Jo and Matt.
Ruling in a child custody case, a court barred Sandusky last month from being alone with three grandchildren and having overnight visits.
The Second Mile said last month that it barred Sandusky from programs involving children from 2008, when he told them he was under investigation.
University trustees fired Paterno and the school's president last month for failing to report to police an alleged 2002 assault in a Penn State football shower.
The former athletic director and a former top finance officer also face perjury charges over that incident.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Greg McCune and Philip Barbara)