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Lance Mehl's post-playing career seems as if it were

destined to be a script for one of those Saturday morning television shows

aimed at a young teenage audience.

After retiring in 1988 because of constant pain in his right knee, the

former Jets linebacker became a juvenile detention court officer.

But he is not just any juvenile detention court officer.

Oh, no.

When a kid steals a car, gets caught smoking marijuana or something of that

sort, and the judge decides this kid is close to going to juvenile detention

but he's not there yet, whom does the judge order him to see?

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That big former NFL player named Lance.

And that's Sir Lance to you.

"We started the program 13 years ago as a military boot camp-style

program," Mehl, 50, said by telephone from his home in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

"But what we found out there was that we only made stronger delinquents."

So they quickly made some revisions and turned it into a four-level program

dedicated to making the troubled kid understand what it takes to be a

respected, productive person.

"All the time we're talking about what it's like being a member of a

community and what you're expected to do," he said. "These kids all talk about

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respect, but they don't give it, yet they expect it in return."

In any given week, Mehl said he sees the 60 or so kids enrolled in the

program every day after school, and he rewards them with gold stars for going

to class, getting good grades or simply handing in a project on time. That

means they're close to moving to the next level in the program - and one step

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closer to the door.

Mehl also sees them on Saturdays in a classroom of his own; there they are

supervised doing schoolwork, watch educational films, perform exercises and

meet with counselors.

The quickest a kid can get through the program is six months, but Mehl said

it's rare that a kid finishes that quickly. "Sometimes," he said, "it's a long

uphill battle."

Mehl technically is on the clock all the time. His cell phone is always

on, because he's always one call away from having to step into a situation. He

said he makes surprise visits to the kids' homes at all hours any day of the

week simply to make sure they're staying out of trouble.

This is not exactly the job Mehl envisioned doing when he was finishing his

eight-year career with the Jets.

After retiring from football in the summer of 1988, he did construction

work for a few years. In 1996, a friend who worked as a juvenile court judge

suggested this job to him. Mehl was intrigued.

He still enjoys it, but he said his football injuries from decades ago have

slowed him down considerably. In the beginning, he chased kids down the street

if he had to; nowadays, knee and back pain along with nerve problems related

to spinal stenosis limit his mobility.

He has missed being a part of a football team, but he doesn't miss playing.

That might be why he said he's been to only one Penn State game since his

playing days and only one Jets game in the past 15 years.

Mehl said the NFL denied his application for workman's comp immediately

after he retired, and he hasn't asked for any assistance ever since. "I'm not

going to go begging," he said. "I can still work. I'm just not as mobile as I

used to be."

Besides, Mehl said, he enjoys his job, even if it's impossible to change

every kid he meets for the better. But whenever he runs into someone who made

it through his program, as he did recently at the mall - and the kid yells out

to him, "Sir Lance!" - Mehl said it makes all the troublesome times worthwhile.


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