A precocious fifth-grader chatted up Tennessee Titans defensive back Coty Sensabaugh while getting an autograph Friday at Logan’s Roadhouse, and you couldn’t help but think Sensabaugh was the same age when his 16-year-old brother, Jamaar, died a week after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Perhaps Sensabaugh would’ve been just as thoughtful in responses on everything from Kevin Durant to how to improve footwork if Jamaar were still alive, but absorbing a childhood tragedy left a lasting positive impact.
“Once he passed away, it was always my goal to do something special and to keep his name alive,” said Sensabaugh, who was in town for the Titans Caravan and will host his second annual football camp today in Kingsport. “I didn’t know exactly what it was I was gonna do, but I knew I was gonna do something. … I feel without that dramatic experience I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. That really put everything in to perspective and forced me to grow up overnight.”
Sensabaugh has been recognized for his work in raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).
“We ended up raising $54,000 in 10 weeks (in a campaign in 2013) and we ended up getting a research grant in honor of my brother,” he said. “It wasn’t about recognition and all that stuff. It was about honoring my brother and trying to help others out with leukemia and lymphoma.
“My brother passed away from leukemia back in 2000, and I know since then the technology and the treatments have come so far. So I’m definitely gonna keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully, others can get involved. I just seen a couple of weeks ago where Craig Sager of the NBA was diagnosed with it. So you know, it’s everywhere. Hopefully we can just keep spreading the word and raising awareness to hopefully one day find a cure.”
Tennessee veteran play-by-play broadcaster Mike Keith is a Sensabaugh fan.
“Coty Sensabaugh is one of the most special guys,” Keith said. “He’s grounded. He’s earnest. He’s appreciative. And he’s a real good player to boot.
“We’re just really proud of him as an organization. He does it the right way. He does it the way you hope every player does.”?Sensabaugh is excited to host today’s camp, where fellow Titans quarterback Tyler Wilson and safety Daimion Stafford will assist him.
“The thing about Coty man, he’s just a good dude every day, you know,” Stafford said. “He never has no bad days. You’re gonna get the same Coty every day.
“His work ethic – before OTAs he’ll go in and do extra ladder work, footwork stuff. And I’m sure if you ask him, he’ll go and watch the extra film with you and stuff like that. He’s a really good stand-up guy.”
Others set to work the camp include Dobyns-Bennett alums Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford, a pair of rising sophomore Tennessee Volunteers that impress Sensabaugh.
“I think both of those two will be better than me,” said Sensabaugh, a fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson set to begin his third season in Nashville. “That’s just my opinion, and not trying to put no pressure on them or nothing. But I think they’ll be better than me. That’s my honest opinion. I hope they are. …
“Malik is faster than I was at that age. And at that age, Devaun Swafford has the best footwork I’ve seen. … Mark my words; they’ll be special.”
Sensabaugh is happy to have former Vols receiver Justin Hunter as a teammate.
“He is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers I’ve seen,” Sensabaugh said. “You can throw it anywhere around him and he has a great chance of coming down with it. And he has it mentally, too. All he has to do is just keep working and keep learning and the sky’s the limit. … A lot of people are fans of him already, but a whole lot more will be fans of him after this year.”
The Titans have a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt.
“I love the new coaching staff; I love our new scheme,” Sensabaugh said. “You know, it’s a new vision, a new direction. It was time for a change. …
“My gut tells me we can be extremely, extremely special. I felt really good about the team last year. We ended up finishing 7-9, but … two or three plays in a couple of games and we were in the playoffs. So I feel we’re better right now at this point than we were at this point last year. … It’s all about all of us buying in, one team, one heartbeat.”
It’s always been about family for Sensabaugh, who’s had numerous relatives play professional and Division I sports. His cousin Gerald Sensabaugh, who’ll be at the camp today, retired after an eight-year career as an NFL defensive back last year. Coty, who initially dreamed of playing in the NBA, will tell you how his respectable 38-inch vertical leap doesn’t seem so impressive after hearing about Gerald’s (46 inches).
“My whole goal growing up was too be as good as my siblings and my cousins,” Coty said. “I knew if I could be as good as those guys I could do something special.”
Jamaar seemed to help Coty get into Clemson seven years after his death. Jamaar’s elementary school friend, Matt Forbush, ran in to Coty’s mother and suggested giving Clemson a look.
Coty was committed to Appalachian State. But a Clemson player declared for the NFL draft on the final day and five recruits offered ahead of Coty all signed elsewhere or didn’t clear.
Forbush played at Science Hill, as did his younger brother Wes, who also went on to Clemson and ended up being a teammate of Coty’s.
Even odder, Coty got the offer from Clemson the day before Signing Day, when D-B played basketball at Omar Wattad-led Science Hill.
“I ended up committing to Clemson that day,” Coty said. “And my best friend, Blake Leeper, was on that team with me at that time. I just remember talking to him before that game, and I was like, ‘Man, we’re gonna go out here, we’re gonna whip on these (Science Hill) boys and then we’re gonna celebrate.’ And we ended up beating them over here at their place. I think that was the first time we did it in probably 10 years. And I ended up scoring my 1,000th point that night. …
“It’s crazy how that all worked out. Matt Forbush is actually the reason I got in to Clemson.”
Well, with a variety of assistance from Jamaar.