When Joe Haden went down with a leg injury in the Steelers’ 20-17 win against the Colts Sunday, Coty Sensabaugh took over as the No. 2 cornerback on the NFL’s No. 2-ranked pass defense without having played a down on defense as a member of the Steelers.
After seeing the field only on special teams through the team’s first eight games, Sensabaugh had to step right into a starring role in the secondary with little time to adjust. Off the field, though, the sixth-year cornerback has already made a big impact.
Sensabaugh and his wife, Dominique, teamed up with Food for the Hungry to build a water distribution system in Mateguasse, Haiti, that will service a new school the organization is building in the community. The water reservoir and distribution system will capture spring water in the hills and pipe it to the new school, serving about 200 children and 2,000 more people living in a community where clean water is scarce and accessing it can even be dangerous.
The idea to build the water system came to Sensabaugh and his wife when they took a mission trip to Haiti in March and witnessed the hardships children in the area had to endure.
“Just seeing how much the kids in the area had to go through to get clean water — a lot of kids in the area couldn’t even go to school on a regular basis because they had to go fetch water for their families,” Sensabaugh said. “I’m not talking about five or 10 minutes — they had to walk four or five hours per day just to get clean water for their families. So once we saw it with our own eyes, it was a no brainer for us.”
Milam Byers, director of sports partnerships at Food for the Hungry, took the couple to visit some of the completed water distribution systems in other parts of Haiti during the five-day trip. Once they saw what the finished product looked like, the only thing left to do was find another area in dire need of their help.
“One of our guiding mission statements is to go to the hardest places and help the most vulnerable,” Byers said. “I think what was eye-opening for them and continues to be for me … just the harsh conditions that people live in. And realizing that in many ways, they’ve been forgotten.”
Even traveling into the Mateguasse community where the water system is being constructed was no easy task for the group. Byers, who described the drive into the community as “scary,” said the road wouldn’t have even been accessible on a rainy day.
“Because these communities are so difficult to reach and live in, they don’t have access to things like basic infrastructure and education and water and health care,” Byers said.
The Haiti trip wasn’t the Sensabaughs’ first foray into missionary work. The couple bypassed a traditional honeymoon after getting married in May 2016, instead taking a trip to the Dominican Republic to hand out more than 500 pairs of shoes to impoverished children.
Sensabaugh credits his wife for helping inspire him to use his platform to give back to those in need.
While the two were college students at Clemson, Dominique took time out to travel to New Orleans and help with the rebuilding process after Hurricane Katrina. Sensabaugh wasn’t able to find the time to join her between classes and football, but the newlyweds’ trip to the Dominican Republic convinced him to devote his offseasons to charitable causes.
“In college, you really don’t have much time to do anything else,” Sensabaugh said. “Our first couple years in the league we didn’t really have any rhyme or reason. It was just when the honeymoon came up and it’s now a staple for us every year.”
The couple has been raising funds for the water system via an online “Pledge It” campaign, which ended Nov. 5 after raising $5,614 in donations. Once the offseason comes, he and his wife will travel back to Haiti to start the building process.
For now, Sensabaugh will do his part to help the Steelers reach their ultimate goal of winning a seventh Super Bowl, whether it’s on special teams or in the secondary as part of the NFL’s second-ranked pass defense. As for the challenge of juggling his on-field responsibilities with his off-field mission in Haiti, he says it all comes naturally to him.
“Really, it’s just my calling. I feel I’m great at both, so it’s really not that difficult for me,” Sensabaugh said. “And I always have great people around me, so my support system makes it real easy.”