PEELER: Mr. Dependable Back In the House
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – There was a time, a week before his final game at NC State, when record-setting wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery wasn't sure he would be able to play. He had caught a stomach bug on the way to Orlando for the 2003 Tangerine Bowl, and was weak and dehydrated.
But, like the quarterback that threw him so many passes during their four-year careers at NC State, nothing could keep Cotchery off the field or out of the end zone, not a high-ankle sprain his junior year or a subluxed shoulder at the beginning of his senior season.
He was, as then-head coach Chuck Amato called him, "Mr. Dependable."
He suited up that January evening, and he and Philip Rivers went out in style. Rivers hit Cotchery 13 times in the 56-26 victory over Kansas, for a total of 171 yards. Rivers threw for a career-high 475 yards that night and tied his own school record with five touchdown passes.
They left the field arm-in-arm, a pair of Alabama boys who came to Raleigh to make names for themselves. Within months, they both embarked on NFL careers, after being drafted by rival New York teams.
Rivers lasted only moments with the Giants, being traded for Eli Manning to the San Diego Chargers. But Cotchery, taken in the fourth round of the draft, has stayed with the Jets for the last five years, working his way up from special teams to become one of the NFL's most reliable receivers. He caught a total of 235 passes the last three years, and has 27 catches for 430 yards this season for the Jets.
While Rivers got the bulk of attention during his four-year career at NC State, Cotchery walked silently by his side, a favorite target from the first day they came on campus. Though they were both from Alabama - they had even played high school basketball against each other - they were hardly a package deal. Rivers was recruited by Mike O'Cain's staff and was constantly wooed during the transition from O'Cain to new head coach Chuck Amato.
Cotchery was one of the last players included in Amato's first recruiting class, an unknown receiver suggested by Joe Pate. He had few college football offers, and jumped at the opportunity to leave his large family in Birmingham to play for the Wolfpack.
Four years later, he had broken most of Torry Holt's career receiving records, with 200 career catches, 15 100-yard receiving games and a total of 3,119 receiving yards. He joined Florida State's Peter Warrick as the only players in ACC history to catch 200 passes and gain more than 3,000 yards.
For his career, he caught 21 of Rivers' 95 touchdown passes.
Cotchery has remained close to the program, returning for each of Tom O'Brien's former football player reunions and visiting with friends he made while in college.
Saturday, Mr. Dependable will return to Carter-Finley Stadium and NC State, the place where he met his future wife, Mercedes. He will be recognized during the Homecoming game against Maryland.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.