Commentary

Cotchery follows a path defined by faith

Updated: September 23, 2008, 11:11 AM ET
By Ben Houser | Special to ESPN.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- From birth, New York Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery always had a purpose. He was born with a sixth finger on his left hand, what his mother calls a gift from God that she believes showed a plan for his life.

"God's purpose for Jerricho was to play football," Katie Cotchery said. "I can think back when he was a little baby, and we were always wondering why he would always look at his hands. He would always do his hands like that and look at them."

Cotchery, whose extra finger eventually was removed, was given his name by his parents for its biblical reference. The story of Jericho, as told in the book of Joshua, is a story of triumph in which after seven days the Israelites blew trumpets and shouted outside the walls of Jericho. The power of God, as written in the Bible, was with the Israelites, and the walls of Jericho fell.

"It's a biblical name. … When Jerricho runs for a touchdown those walls come tumbling down," Katie said.

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New York Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery has become Brett Favre's new favorite target on the field. Off the field, Cotchery has endured a long path to success.

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Cotchery wears a bracelet around his right wrist with the inscription "I will pray." It is a daily reminder to thank God for all the things that he has endured in his life. On his left wrist he has a permanent reminder: shards of glass embedded in his skin.

"I have a piece of glass in there right now. Anytime I put pressure, anytime I put tape or anything like that on it, it'll start making its way up," said Jerricho.

How the glass got there is the moment that changed his life.

Jerricho CotcheryESPNWith these hands, New York Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery has caught passes, prayed and held an adopted daughter.

Church is No. 1

Cotchery, 26, grew up in Birmingham, Ala. He was the second-youngest of 13 children raised by Bob and Katie Cotchery. Although all the children weren't in the home at the same time it was, Jerricho says, at times a chaotic environment.

"You know you got to get to the dinner table early to get that meal, but for me I had to be tough-minded," he said. "I had to be a very tough individual, because sisters and brothers will rough you up a little bit, but it was fun."

The family lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and at times had to fill up buckets because their water was about to get shut off. They kept candles around the house for when the electric company wasn't paid. Cotchery says it's through those struggles he learned the value of hard work.

"The hardest memory is just when your parents look at you and, you know, they feel like they let you down as a parent," he said. "I never felt like that my entire life, that they let me down as a child. I'm proud of my parents, and I'm proud of the way that they raised me."

In the Cotchery household attending church was mandatory, even if it meant being dragged there. Jerricho, who was a quiet child according to both his parents, loved NFL receiver Jerry Rice growing up and wanted to watch football on Sundays, but his mother had different plans.

"I had to make him go to church in tennis shoes. … He had his suit on and a tie and you know, tennis shoes," she said. "I took him on to church anyway. And he didn't like that."

At about age 3 or 4, she said, Jerricho started playing football -- and scoring touchdowns. He starred at Phillips High School in Birmingham and won numerous awards for his athletic accomplishments.

Cotchery made lots of friends through sports. When he was 16, one of them had as much impact on him as any other friend in his life to date: Brian Talley.

Turning Point

Ten years ago, Cotchery, who was becoming more independent, told his parents he wanted to go out on the town with his friends.

"I got into an argument with my mom. I was arguing about going out that night and she was telling me that, you know, I need to slow down and I need to be thinking about church the next day, and I need to be heading on that right path of trying to find God or have a relationship with God," he said.

His mother says she had a bad feeling about that night, and didn't want her son going anywhere. The next night -- May 30, 1998 -- her feelings were confirmed.

[+] EnlargeMiami Dolphins and New York Jets
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesCotchery, No. 89, and teammate Vernon Gholston, No. 56, pray with members of the Dolphins after their game Sept. 7 at Dolphin Stadium.

Talley was driving home from basketball practice with Jerricho and a couple of other friends. A tire blew out. The car rolled several times.

"He [Talley] kind of loses control of the car, and the next thing you know the car is flipping. It was like slow motion, when the car was turning over and you really don't know what's going on," Cotchery said. "All I was doing was just grasping hold to the door and just hoping that I wasn't going to be thrown away from the car, and after the car got through flipping, I looked beside me and BT was gone."

Talley was thrown from the car and died moments after the crash. Cotchery lost a lot of blood through several cuts on his arms, hands and head. He still has scars on his wrists and hands. Shards of glass work their way up and out of his skin even today.

"I was in reflection mode for probably a couple of months, just thinking about life and thinking about really having a relationship with God," Cotchery said. "After that accident, it was a turning point for me."

Shortly after Talley's death, Cotchery says he changed. He began working harder in memory of his friend and finally heeded his mother's advice.

"I just think about the time not listening to my mom, and she just wanted the best for me. She was trying to get me to go to church each and every Sunday," he said. "As a young kid … I just wanted to watch football. But after the accident, I realized what my mom was trying to get across to me. She was just saying you need to establish a relationship with God, a real relationship … It's something you have to work on, but I'm glad that I have a relationship with God right now, because I have a different perspective on life."

Hearing God's voice

Cotchery grew up in a house with lots of brothers and sisters, and says he always dreamed of having a family of his own.

Jerricho Cotchery
Cotchery familyMercedes and Jerricho Cotchery adopted a baby girl last year and are eager to build their family.

At North Carolina State, where Cotchery broke several of Torry Holt's receiving marks, he met his wife Mercedes through friends at a college party. They were married just a month after the Jets selected Jerricho in the 2004 NFL Draft.

The couple can't have biological children, and after a struggle of deciding whether or not to try a surrogate mother, they thought about adopting, but Jerricho was against it.

"He didn't understand mentally that he could love this child that he didn't birth," said Mercedes.

In early 2007 at a Christian NFL conference, Cotchery heard a sermon on adoption  and received a message.

"God spoke to me and totally changed my heart in one night, and I felt so strongly about this that adoption would be the last thing I'd ever think about," he said. "He changed my heart totally in one night."

But he didn't tell his wife first. Instead, with her listening, he spoke in front of his NFL peers and told them that he wanted to adopt a child.

Said Mercedes: "I'm like, 'Wow, you forgot to tell me, you know?' There was one secret that I'd been keeping from him, [which] was that I was cool with adopting, too."

They went through the process and prepared to welcome a baby boy into their home. Mercedes was in the delivery room Aug. 17, 2007, and held the baby. They named him Jacob Jerricho. But the biological mother decided she wanted to keep her child. The Cotcherys were devastated.

"We had a game that night, and I was just waiting for the game to be over, and before the game I kind of got a feeling from my wife that something wasn't going right," Jerricho said. "After the game it was just a fact that we weren't going to get him, and I questioned God a little bit."

Mercedes got the impression her husband would never want to try to adopt again, that the traumatic experience had closed his heart. But 13 days later, the adoption agency called the Cotcherys and told them they had a baby girl for them.

"I just really fell to my knees, saying 'God, forgive me for questioning you.' Before we were even thinking about adopting, I was saying if we were able to have a child on our own, I wanted a daughter," Jerricho Cotchery said.

On Sept. 5, 2007, the couple brought their baby home and named her Jacey, a play off of Jerricho Cotchery's initials. Now Jerricho has his family, and the couple says they will adopt again.

The Cotcherys' love of children has expanded to kids they don't call their own. They started the Cotchery Foundation to encourage disadvantaged kids to achieve their goals.

Jerricho CotcheryESPNAfter the death of his friend Brian Talley, Cotchery reflected upon his life and began pursuing a relationship with God.

Still In Church

Katie Cotchery's cell phone rings -- usually frowned upon in the quiet church sanctuary, but not here. It is Sedric Cotchery, one of Jerricho's brothers.

"Sedric called the church to tell me li'l Jerricho -- we call him li'l Jerricho now -- had made a touchdown. … So I went out the church, and I called him and he was just so excited; he was real excited, real happy."

In Week 1, Cotchery caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre, and the Jets beat Miami 20-14. Cotchery, who has 164 receptions the past two relatively unnoticed seasons, celebrated after his first touchdown with Favre just as expected.

He didn't dance. He didn't draw attention to himself. He put his hands together … and he prayed.

Ben Houser is a senior producer for "E:60."

Ben Houser is a Senior Producer for ESPN's E:60.