Sadath Jean-Pierre looks like a proud homeowner in the picture, his arms draped around his two sisters in front of their Habitat for Humanity house.
Next GameWho: The Citadel (3-2, 2-1) at Samford (4-1, 2-1)When: Saturday, 3 p.m. Where: Siebert Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.
And without a doubt, The Citadel’s junior cornerback is the man of his house.
His father has been absent from his life since he was in the fifth grade. His mother worked as a hotel housekeeper at a resort an hour away from their home in Immokalee, Fla., while battling breast cancer.
From a young age, Sadath was often the chief caregiver for his sisters, Linda and Kenya.
“I can cook pretty well now,” he says with a grin, “because I cooked so much for them when I was younger.”
How did Jean-Pierre do as man of the house? Linda is a freshman at Florida State on academic scholarship. Kenya is a senior at Immokalee High School and has been accepted at Central Florida.
And Sadath will receive his Citadel ring next week, graduating next year with a business degree.
“The ring means so much to me,” Jean-Pierre said this week. “Just knowing where I came from, what I’ve been through. I’ll be the first one in my family to graduate from college and do something significant, and that means a lot to my family. Just to be able to take the ring back to my town and show them what I’ve accomplished, that means a lot to me.”
Jean-Pierre’s parents brought their family to the U.S. from their homeland of Haiti when he was 3 years old, but his parents split when he was about 10. Because his mom had to leave the house at 5:30 a.m. for her job cleaning rooms at Marriott Hotel on Marco Island, it was up to Sadath to get his sisters off to school, and to watch out for them after school.
All of that made an impression on Citadel coach Kevin Higgins when he recruited Jean-Pierre.
“You not only evaluate players, but their families and how they grew up,” Higgins said. “And it spoke volumes to me when I learned his story. He had so much to do just to keep his family going and being a surrogate dad for his sisters. It was really impressive.”
When Sadath was in high school, his family lived in a small apartment that was damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, soaking the carpet and leaving holes in the walls and ceiling.
But the family was selected for a new house built by Habitat for Humanity, and Sadath worked side-by-side with volunteers to help build it.
“It was the first time I ever had a room of my own,” he told Habitat for Humanity. “Before we moved, my bed was in the living room. With privacy and space, I could focus on my studies. Plus, now what I am away at school, I am at ease knowing my mom and sisters are in a safe place and in a great community.”
Despite his struggles growing up, Jean-Pierre is one of the more light-hearted Bulldogs, quick to smile and talk smack to teammates. After putting in time on scout teams and special teams, he’s blossomed this year into a starter, tied for third on the team with 35 tackles.
“He’s probably the most improved player on the team,” Higgins said. “In the spring, we were not even sure who the starter would be there, and in the first game we were not sure how he would play. But he had a good first game and has gotten better every week.”
Next week will be a big one for the Jean-Pierre family. Thanks to donations from Citadel alumni in south Florida, Sadath can afford to buy his Citadel ring. His mom is too sick at the moment to make the trip for the Parents Day game against Western Carolina, but sister Linda will come up from Florida State.
“When I look back, I can appreciate the way I grew up,” he said. “It helps me see the bigger picture, so that when times get tough, I know I’m not doing it just for myself.”