Well, the Jets may not have exactly stolen wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL Draft, but they were probably wise to not leave any fingerprints.
“It was a lifelong dream to be drafted into the league, just a feeling of thankfulness,” said Cotchery, who left North Carolina State as its all-time reception leader. “I remember the tears and looking back throughout my life and seeing what it took to get to that point. It all kind of worked itself out and I was just happy to be drafted by the Jets. I felt that was the team I had the most chemistry with throughout the interviewing process.”
Cotchery’s first season in New York can best be called a learning experience.
“We had a great group of veterans, and so we really didn’t need anyone to come and speak to us as rookies because we had those guys already in the locker room,” Cotchery said. “Having Chad Pennington and Kevin Mawae, Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin in the building, all of these guys were just wonderful for us as a group of rookies.
“I can remember specifically in one meeting, it was Chad and Curtis, and they were just basically talking to us about what it takes to be a professional. I remember those guys talking about knowing your playbook. When you have free time to spend that time in your playbook and making sure you know your stuff when you’re put into the game.”
Beginning in his third season, Cotchery was a key in New York’s offensive game. That year, he was second on the Jets with 82 catches and co-led the team with six touchdown receptions. The following year was the first of three consecutive campaigns that he led the Jets in receiving.
“I was excited about it, but for me, it’s always been about the team,” Cotchery said. “I was just happy in that moment being able to contribute in the way that I was contributing. I was groomed for it, great coaches and great teammates who took me under their wings and showed me the way.
“My rookie year, Santana Moss and all of those guys were in the (receivers) room with me. And in my second year, Laveranues Coles came (in a trade with Washington) and right from the jump, he was a guy that took me under his wing and showed me the way as a route runner and to have an aggressive mindset to go and get the ball. Just everything that it took to compete on a day-to-day basis.”
With the Jets for seven seasons from 2004-10, Cotchery is the team’s eighth all-time leader with 358 receptions and ninth with 4,514 receiving yards. What are among his fondest memories from his time with the Green & White?
“I have so many, but I think the most significant one was when we made it to the AFC Championship Game in 2009,” Cotchery said. “Just seeing that moment of excitement for the Jets fanbase, the hard work that the coaches had put in, the hard work that the players had put in, all of that kind of meet. We were 9-7, and a lot of people thought we weren’t good enough to even be in the playoffs. But we felt otherwise. Just seeing everybody come together and have that come about, it was a really fun moment for us.”
It was fun for the fans, as well. After experiencing roller-coaster seasons, stability was welcomed and appreciated. Cotchery and his teammates were equally appreciative of the support they felt from the Jets faithful.
“I don’t want to compare them to other teams and try to make distinctions in that regard, but it was just a fun fanbase to be a part of. I mean, there was energy every Sunday,” Cotchery said. “Whenever you stepped into the stadium there was going to be a bunch of passionate fans about their team. They were going to root for you and do everything they could to give you that energy. I know I appreciated it and my teammates were the same. It was fun to play in front of that crowd.
“My wife, Mercedes, and I, we truly appreciated our time in New York with the Jets. We met so many wonderful people throughout those years and we still communicate with a lot of those people. So many great coaches, so many great teammates, so many wonderful people in the building that I had a chance to establish relationships with. It was nothing short of awesome to be around the people that I was around for those seven years that I was there.”
Playing in 175 games over 12 seasons for the Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, Cotchery finished his career with 524 catches for 6,623 yards and 34 touchdowns.
“It was by God’s grace that I was able to play that long and feel good even after the 12 years,” Cotchery said. “A lot of guys have it figured out and they don’t last long because they already have it figured out. They can’t hear anybody. So, just being able to listen to the vets my rookie year and throughout my time in the league is kind of what set the course for me and allowed me to play as long as I did.”
Cotchery is now in the second phase of his NFL career – coaching. He joined Carolina head coach Ron Rivera’s staff in 2017 as the assistant wide receivers coach.
“Throughout my career, I always felt like I was going to play and go off right into coaching,” Cotchery said. “I had already made the transition down here to Charlotte and I enjoyed my time playing for Coach Rivera, and so I knew I would enjoy my time coaching for him. It’s been nothing short of my experience that I had for him as a player.
“Just like as a rookie coming into it, I had to learn a lot of things and I had great vets to teach me and great coaches throughout my time, especially with the Jets. So, I’m just trying to offer that same thing to the guys, and helping them get better, helping them to see what they bring to the table.”