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The Captivating Story of Jacey Cotchery


Pro football players are people, too, so it should be no surprise to hear, for instance, that Jerricho and Mercedes Cotchery are proud parents who are preparing to celebrate the two-month anniversary of their daughter, Jacey.

"She's feisty like I am," Mercedes said, "and her sounds when she makes noises are really soft like Jerricho."

"She's beautiful," Jerricho said.

But what makes this family portrait so fascinating is the story the couple told about how Jacey came into their lives. It involves elements of biology, the intricacies of the adoption system, the approaching football season and the Cotcherys' strong faith.

One of the focal points of the story is when the Jets' wide receiver got up on the final day of a religious conference in February and announced to the assembled gathering:

"I'm going to be a dad."

Mercedes, also at the conference, was, in Jerricho's word, "shocked."

"It was a pleasant surprise," she said. "Just the moment in itself was really awesome. If Jerricho speaks, it's something worth listening to."

Why shock and surprise? Let's go back to the couple's days at North Carolina State, not very long before.

"I met Mercedes in college," Jerricho said. "From the first day we met, we've been together ever since."

They were married in May 2004, the month after he was selected by the Jets in the fourth round of the draft.

And they married in the knowledge that they couldn't physically have children. So they started to consider how they wanted to start their family. In fact, they had begun the process leading to having a child by a surrogate mother.

But Mercedes was troubled. "My husband and I are Christians," she said. "In July [2006] I realized I hadn't really asked God for guidance. I had to figure out what God wanted me to do. That's when he put adoption on my heart."

Jerricho's Change of Heart

The couple admits adoption was not the way Jerricho wanted to go.

"Originally, I wasn't up for it. If anything, it was going to be the last resort for me," Jerricho said. "She kept talking about it, talking about it. I was kind of like, I don't know, I don't know.

"But you have to support your wife, and that's what I tried to do. We prayed about it. And then we ended up going to the conference."

Professional Athletes Outreach is an annual retreat affiliated with the NFL that is held around the country. One of the speakers at this year's event in California was Dr. Voddie Baucham, a minister and author who spoke of the many rewards of adoption.

"It was weird. I was very uncomfortable with it before that time," Jerricho said. "But by the end of the conference I just wanted to get up there and let everyone know about my change of heart and how God spoke to me."

Mercedes didn't know Jerricho was going to speak, and she wasn't alone. Several other Jets players were also in attendance and were teetering on giving their own testimony about the conference and their marriages.

"That last night was basically open-mic," said cornerback Hank Poteat, also at the event. "Jerricho, he's a softspoken guy. All of us were sitting at the table and we said, 'We're not going up there unless Jerricho goes up.' We were thinking there was no way he was going to speak. But the spirit really moved him. You could tell this was really something that touched him."

So the decision to adopt was made, but now the Cotcherys had to go through the process. And here the story takes a detour. One adoption agency told them it had a mother in the South about to give birth who was putting the baby up for adoption. Mercedes traveled to the hospital, and Jerricho, excused from training camp practice for "personal reasons," was going to join her the next day.

There was no next day. The birth mother decided to keep her newborn.

The Cotcherys were stunned, but they again turned to their faith to guide them through.

"When we lost our son — I consider him my son because he prepared my heart for Jacey — I knew something awesome was in store," Mercedes said. "But I didn't know how quickly."

'A Crazy Feeling'

Jerricho suggested they both "relax" and not return immediately to that agency. A few weeks later, another agency they had met with previously let them know it had a baby for them, already born, whose parents had already signed off on the adoption.

Again Mercedes headed south, this time to see the baby and her biological family. This time Jerricho couldn't go — "It was Patriots week," he said with a laugh. Indeed, he was attempting to start a family with the Jets about to start their season.

But he rushed out of the locker room after practice the Wednesday before the Sept. 9 opener, switched cars to the one with the baby seat already secured, and no doubt flew to LaGuardia Airport.

"It was a crazy feeling," he said as he saw his wife and new daughter emerge from the jetway. "I feel like it would've been the same feeling if we were to have had a child and I would've been in the hospital room with her."

It's funny how things work out. Others have remarked to the Cotcherys that Jacey (a name Mercedes found in a book of baby names that matches Jerricho's initials) looks just like Jerricho, down to her eyes, nose and "receiver's hands"

"I had huge hands as a baby, too," he beamed.

"I didn't know if this was a divine situation," Mercedes reflected, "but so many little things have happened that really let us know this was the right decision for us."

And Jerricho, who said he and his wife plan to adopt again, still can't believe how the story turned out, how it continues to turn out.

"It helps definitely to go home and see my daughter each and every day," he said, "especially when you're going through a lot of things at work, to go home and see her face.

"I'm a dad now. It's a great feeling."

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