By Mike Hoffman
Sports Information Director
If a photograph can adequately caption a man’s life, then the one taken outside McAlister Field House following last year’s ring ceremony begins to tell the story of Sadath Jean-Pierre.
At first glance the image is nothing unique; in fact it was one replicated hundreds of times that October morning. A proud Citadel cadet is showing off his shiny new piece of jewelry, being embraced by family members.
But for Sadath, it represents a milestone chapter in a life that was always filled with love but was never easy. And the women with him in that picture – his mother, Moranie, and younger sisters Linda and Kenya – provided a solid foundation that enabled him to achieve his goals.
Now in his fifth season as a member of the Bulldog football team and second as a starting cornerback, Sadath took the road less traveled to The Citadel. He was born in Haiti before moving to Immokalee, Fla., at age four and became the man of the house when his parents divorced when he was in fifth grade. He hasn’t seen his father, Vernio, since his high school graduation.
It was at that time that Moranie became the rock of the family.
“My mom worked at Marriott Hotels in Marco Island, which was an hour and a half from our house,” said Sadath. “She would wake up at 5:30 and not get home until after seven. She was really tired but still had breakfast ready for us in the morning cooked dinner and made sure the house was well kept.”
When Sadath was old enough, he was determined to help out his mother. If that meant getting a job and giving up his after school activities, including football, that was a sacrifice he was willing to make. But mom would hear none of it.
“She told me at a young age that she didn’t want me working,” remembered Sadath. “I tried to get odd jobs, but she always said ‘son, focus on school, focus on sports. You and your sisters do what you need to do now and let me take care of you. Later on I’ll reap the benefits of what you produce.’”
Sadath respected his mother’s wishes, but that didn’t prevent him from taking on more of a role at home. He became a father figure for his sisters, taking on the responsibility of getting them ready in the morning, walking them to school, picking them up in the afternoon and heating up dinner. He even tried his hand at cooking with mixed results,
“He had a cooking class in high school and came home one day and announced that he was going to make us spaghetti,” said Linda, who is now a sophomore at Florida State. “He cooked it and burned it. The spaghetti was black. How do you burn spaghetti? But we still ate it.”
The bonds that were formed between brother and sisters forged in those early days in Immokalee have only strengthened through the years.
“My sisters and I are very close,” said Sadath. “Linda calls me all the time. She’ll talk for 10 minutes straight, and I won’t say a word. She’ll tell me her whole life story, about the problems she’s having in class. I still help her with her schoolwork to this day.
“Kenya (a senior at Immokalee High School) calls every night before game day and again on the bus to wish me luck.”
Sadath credits his relationship with his family and less-than-usual circumstances of his youth for helping pave his way to The Citadel. His story made a strong impression on Bulldog head coach Kevin Higgins during the recruiting process.
“You not only evaluate players but their families and how they grew up,” Higgins said in an interview with the Charleston Post & Courier during the 2012 season. “He had so much to do just to keep his family going and being a surrogate dad for his sisters. It was really impressive.”
The challenges that faced the Jean-Pierre family took an even more serious turn when their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer while Sadath was a student at Immokalee High School. The fragility of life stared them right in the face, but again Moranie refused to blink.
Sadath would occasionally catch her crying in her room and found it hard to see his mother like that. But he knew she had the foundation to face her illness.
“She’s always been strong in faith and straight in prayer,” said Sadath. “When that happened it was hard on everybody because of the uncertainty. We knew it was something that could potentially kill her. But she kept battling and praying and had the support of her family and members of our church.
“(Her illness) has made me appreciate life, appreciate those around me and the opportunities and blessings I’ve been given. Watching her fight makes me want to do better in my life. I don’t want to let her down.”
Which brings us back to that family photograph. It means so much more to Sadath than the opportunity to share that special day his special ladies. It is an affirmation that there is still a place for faith in an otherwise cynical world.
Moranie has already exceeded the time her doctors originally gave her, and she’s still holding on strong. That strong will and fighting spirit enabled her to make the trip to Charleston and share in Sadath’s special day. The significance of that occasion was lost on no one.
“It was the first time mom had traveled to see Sadath at The Citadel,” said Linda. “For her it was a really big deal; he was the first member of the family to go to college. She saw the product of who she raised and the product of his good work.”
Later that afternoon, his mom saw her son play in a football game for the first time since he was a senior in high school. And Sadath made her proud in that venue as well, playing a big role in The Citadel’s win over Western Carolina with nine tackles and two pass breakups.
Regardless of what the future may hold for Sadath, the ladies in his life will always be his legacy.
“I didn’t realize the impact he had on my life until I was in college,” said Linda. “Everything he did I wanted to do. If I was a boy, I would be a younger version of him. He isn’t just a big brother. He is a lot more than that.”