One of a kind
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
CHARLOTTE — There is a shop in the Johnson City, Tenn. mall that has a T-shirt that proclaims “ETSU football. Undefeated since 2003.”
It’s easy for the Bucs to be unbeaten since the team disbanded football following the 2003 season.
Gerald Sensabaugh was on that team. Currently a safety with the Dallas Cowboys, North Carolina is listed on the roster next to Sensabaugh’s name.
That’s because North Carolina was his final college. He transferred there after playing his first three years at East Tennessee State.
“I had some of my best years there at ETSU,” Sensabaugh said following the Cowboys’ victory over the Carolina Panthers. “I wish they never would have folded it.”
Sensabaugh was one of several former Bucs who went on to other universities to continue their college football careers. He chose North Carolina over other Division I-A football programs that made him an offer.
It was Sensabaugh’s chance to play at that level. He graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High in Kingsport, Tenn., and received interest from ETSU and Appalachian State. Sensabaugh chose ETSU mostly because they made a scholarship offer and ASU didn’t.
“When I first visited Appalachian State, they didn’t offer me a scholarship,” Sensabaugh said. “They were always the team that I just loved. I went there on my first visit and they were like ‘I don’t know.’ So, I committed to ETSU.”
Sensabaugh played three seasons at East Tennessee State for head coach Paul Hamilton, a former Appalachian State quarterback. The Bucs did not make the Division I-AA playoffs while Sensabaugh was there, but East Tennessee State won its final game, which was over The Citadel.
East Tennessee State was fighting budget problems at the time. The artificial turf at the Memorial Center, the indoor home of the team, needed to be replaced.
Instead of trying to go through with another season, the program folded. Sensabaugh said several of the players, including himself, were emotional following the Bucs’ win over The Citadel when the program was shut down.
“It actually brought tears to a lot of guys,” he said. “I know it brought tears to my eyes. A lot of guys already picked out schools where they were going to go, and some were going to stay.”
Sensabaugh chose North Carolina after seeing the facilities, and being told he would get a chance to start. He also kept his jersey No. 14 after getting a freshman quarterback to give it to him.
“I was focused on playing in 1-A then,” Sensabaugh said. “Carolina was close to home and ACC football is big-time football. Their coach came in and said I would be an automatic starter. They showed me a lot of love, so I decided to come.”
After the Tar Heels played in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte at the end of that season, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Sensabaugh in the fifth round. He played there for four years before signing with the Cowboys.
“They were in a bowl draught,” Sensabaugh said of the Tar Heels. “They hadn’t been to a bowl game in a few years.”
Sensabaugh liked his days at North Carolina, even if it was for just one year.
“I learned a lot of new things,” he said. “The facilities were great. They’ve made a lot of coaching changes, so I don’t know a whole lot of people there. I’d like to go back and make a visit and just hang out and get to know some of the new staff.”
Sensabaugh’s education at ETSU and North Carolina could not prepare him for playing for the Cowboys. Dubbed “American’s Team” back in the late 1970s, the Cowboys are often the most popular, and most hated teams among fans.
Being the starting safety on that team brings more scrutiny than being with the Jaguars, and most other teams. He doesn’t read the newspapers that much, and instead, tries to concentrate on his job of keeping opponents out of the end zone.
“You’re constantly looked at,” he said. “You’re constantly criticized for the wrong things. When you win, you kind of get a big head. Coach (Jason) Garrett does a good job of keeping us humble. He’s making sure that no matter what happens, we’re going forward on that ultimate climb.”
That climb is getting to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys are 3-3 this season with a key NFC Eastern Division game against the New York Giants pending today.
Sensabaugh’s said, as the Cowboys’ free safety, his job is to make sure nobody gets past him.
“It’s not too hard of a position,” he said. “It just gets deep mentally. You have to come in and know what to do with your assignments, because if you mess up back there, it’s going to be six points.”