From Clemson to the Steel City: Catching up with Coty Sensabaugh
- 2018-11-09 08:26:29
Clemson University has seen 243 players represent their program in the NFL, and 29 of those players are on an active roster as of 2018. One of those Tigers is Coty Sensabaugh, who graduated from Clemson in 2011. After an outstanding tenure as a Tiger, he earned an invite to the NFL Combine and a month later participated in Clemson’s Pro Day. In the 2012 NFL Draft, Coty Sensabaugh was selected in the fourth round, 115th pick overall, to the Tennessee Titans. Sensabaugh currently plays corner back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was named a starter this week after playing in all but one of the snaps in last week's win over Baltimore.
Before Clemson, Sensabaugh had previously committed to play football at Appalachian State. However, a week before signing day, Sensabaugh discovered that former Clemson safety C.J. Gaddis had declared for the NFL Draft at the last minute. This opened up an extra spot on the defense for the Tigers, and Clemson’s defensive coordinator at the time, Vic Koenning, had been recruiting Sensabaugh. He had only one offer left to hand out after Gaddis declared for the draft and gave it to Sensabaugh. It is a good thing he chose to be a Tiger instead of a Mountaineer because it definitely paid off. During his Clemson career, Sensabaugh recorded 87 tackles, 18 pass deflections and 4 interceptions – one in each of his four seasons. As a senior, Sensabaugh played a total of 933 snaps, which set the school record at the time for total snaps played by a defensive player. He left Clemson as a pro prospect and the top defensive player on the team.
One of the most notable plays in his career took place during his senior year. On September 17th, 2011, the Tigers were playing #21 Auburn, the Defending National Champions. Early in the fourth quarter, with Auburn threatening to score, Sensabaugh made a spectacular interception at the 5-yard line. This play has been referred to as “one of the loudest moments in sports ever.” Although Sensabaugh’s pick played such a pivotal role in helping end Auburn’s 17-game win streak, all he could think about was the interception that he should have had earlier in the game. “I could have had a pick-six earlier in the game. I was like, ‘Man I have to make this play just because of the play I didn’t make.’” He also remembers walking across campus the week leading up to the Auburn game and hearing students say, “There’s no way we can beat Auburn.” Sensabaugh said that moment stuck in his head and that he knew they had to beat Auburn to prove his fellow students wrong. Apart from feeling remorse for the missed pick-six, Sensabaugh was adamant that of all the games he ever played in Death Valley – even night games – the Auburn game in 2011 was the loudest. He also takes pride in proving his fellow students wrong that week.
Sensabaugh’s favorite memory at Clemson—aside from meeting his wife, Dominique—is winning the ACC Championship in 2011. Even though he did not get to win a National Championship while he was at Clemson, he was very excited to watch his alma mater win one in 2016. When asked what went through his mind when the Tigers won, Sensabaugh stated “A lot of joy.” He actually texted Coach Swinney the morning of the game and congratulated him ahead of time on his National Championship. “I just knew we were gonna win. I knew Alabama wasn’t gonna beat them two years in a row. It’s just like Clemson had a hard time beating Alabama last year. Those two teams go back and forth. It’s hard to beat those teams two years in a row.” When reminiscing about Coach Swinney dedicating the victory to all the former players, Sensabaugh said that although he was happy, he was mostly excited for the current players who won. “It’s all about those guys that are there now. They’re the ones who lived it every day so I like looking back from a distance and enjoying it.”
Transitioning into the NFL was somewhat easy for Sensabaugh. He gives most of the credit to Clemson’s coaches and football program. “The way the coaches used to prepare us, I felt pretty prepared when I got to the NFL. It was a pretty smooth adjustment for me.” Sensabaugh said that it only took him a couple of weeks into his first season as an NFL player to get used to things. He also gives a lot of credit to his two older cousins, one being Gerald Sensabaugh, who played in the NFL before him with the Jaguars and Cowboys. “They showed me the ropes before I even got to this level.” Sensabaugh said the hardest part about transitioning from college into the NFL was adjusting to the outside life of the NFL. “Dealing with money, having more free time, a lot more distractions. In college your schedule is so regimented. If you’re not at football practice, you’re in study hall or you’re in class or you’re doing something. In the NFL, once you leave work, you have the whole day to yourself. It’s really just avoiding distractions.” Sensabaugh ended the transition discussion with, “Luckily, I have good people around me to keep me straight.”
Clemson left its mark on Sensabaugh just like it does for anyone else to come and go through Death Valley. Sensabaugh’s favorite part of Clemson was the relationships he built with coaches and friends on and off campus. The teammates and friends he had at Clemson are people he intends to keep with him for life. The biggest thing he misses about Clemson is not getting to see his friends and teammates often, although he tries to keep in touch with them through texting, phone calls and Facetime. Even though they are all spread out over the NFL, Sensabaugh enjoys getting to see his former teammates and Clemson players when he plays other teams. He makes sure to get his fair share of trash-talk in when he plays against his old teammates, but they know it’s all love at the end of the day. “You want to see them do well, but you do not want to see them do well enough to beat your team.” One particular former Tiger teammate with whom Sensabaugh is close was also formerly his teammate on the Steelers, wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Sensabaugh played with Bryant one year at Clemson before graduating and one year in Pittsburgh before Bryant was traded to the Oakland Raiders. “I was sad to see him leave, but it’s a tough business we’re in. He seems to be doing pretty well for himself. I wish him the best besides when we play them on December 9th.”
Sensabaugh graduated from Clemson with a degree in Communications. He said that if he were not in the NFL, he would be a public speaker, but Sensabaugh already spends a lot of his time outside of football speaking publicly in some capacity. Sensabaugh makes sure to use his voice in every way possible—literally and metaphorically. In his free time, Sensabaugh and his wife Dominque work with multiple organizations that help to end world hunger, help distribute shoes to families in need, raise money for research for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and let youth have the opportunity to meet with their community in games and discussions. He also holds a free annual youth football camp in his hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. He finds ways to help those in need no matter where he is placed or what team he is playing for. It’s obvious that Sensabaugh has a calling for helping people out, and being a Pittsburgh native, I am glad he was placed in the Steel City to answer his calling in a community that is close to my heart. Even though he fits in wherever he goes, Pittsburgh is definitely different than Clemson. He traded hills for skyscrapers and homegrown southern food for Primanti Bro’s (or in his case, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood since he doesn’t eat pork). When all is said and done on and off the field, Sensabaugh currently enjoys being in Pittsburgh and being a Steeler—even if the weather is much colder than what he was used to in Tennessee and South Carolina.
Sensabaugh played four seasons for the Tennessee Titans from 2012-2015, three games for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, the rest of the 2016 season for the New York Giants and has been with the Steelers since March 2017. When asked what his strongest personal attributes were off the field and on, he stated, “My strongest attribute on the field is my knowledge; the way I think and see things. Off the field, I’m persistent in everything that I do. If there’s something I want, I’m persistent – which also translates to the field.” He most definitely uses these abilities to his advantage when playing. In his NFL career so far, Sensabaugh has recorded a total of 229 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 26 pass deflections, 3 interceptions and 1 defensive touchdown. He earned an ACC Championship ring, but since he wasn’t able leave Clemson with a National Championship ring, maybe he can help lead the Steelers to their seventh Super Bowl ring.
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