Receiver on the Giving End

Consider Jerricho Cotchery Alabama’s gift to New Jersey. The Birmingham native has become a star on the football field for the Jets and a star in the community, improving the lives of  underprivileged youths through the foundation he established with his wife, Mercedes, in 2006.

It didn’t take long for Cotchery to make his mark on the Garden State. Drafted by the Jets in 2004, he emerged as a star receiver in 2006. He and Mercedes were married in May of 2006, and moved  to Watchung in 2007. After settling in, they set their sights on helping those less fortunate and aiding economically depressed communities statewide.

AT HOME IN NJ: Jerricho and Mercedes have adjusted to life in the Garden State.

AT HOME IN NJ: Jerricho and Mercedes have adjusted to life in the Garden State.

Cotchery, 27,  is no stranger to poverty. He grew up the second-youngest of thirteen children in a family living paycheck to paycheck. His options were decidedly limited. But the harsh reality of his situation did not deter him from barreling head-on to succeed at doing something he loved. And what he loved, from very early on, was football. He judged correctly that success for him would rely not upon money and connections, but hard work and perseverance.

The young athlete’s talent was indisputable and his consistently exceptional performances earned him a ticket to North Carolina State University, where he set records for receptions and career 100-yard receiving games. His hard work paid off big time when the Jets picked him in the fourth round of the 2004 player draft.

Cotchery studied sports management and business in college, but elected to forgo his last semester in order to train for rigorous NFL scouting camps after declaring for the draft. He remains twelve credits short of his bachelor’s degree.

Today, Cotchery exudes the solemn modesty and quiet self-confidence of a person who has gained perspective through hard-earned success. And he is enthusiastic when he speaks of his adopted home. “I love New Jersey,” he says. “It’s got my type of feel. Laid back. Quiet. Any mall you want to go to is right there.”

But Cotchery is not one to fritter away the fruits of his hard-won success on wild spending jags at endlessly available malls. Rather, he and Mercedes get their rewards from community-building events and charitable activities. The goal is to provide children with the type of mentorship and guidance that would have helped him in his own youth. “I just wanted to create a different avenue for the kids,” says Cotchery. “To just be available to them. Encourage others to do the same thing that I’m doing. I think I can make a big difference.”

Mrs. Cotchery’s Turn
Mercedes Cotchery is just as much involved in the Cotchery Foundation as her husband. Her own initiative, Mrs. Cotchery’s Girls Club, operates at the Pride Academy in East Orange.

The Girls Club is designed to “enhance a young lady’s vision of herself,” and is an offshoot of the RESH 180 motivational curriculum, which stands for “Raising Expectations, Standards and Honor.” Mercedes recruits and trains volunteer mentors to help young students along the path of self-actualization. She most enjoys spending time with the girls during field trips and various bonding activities.

Mercedes has been more than pleased with the evolution of the program, which began with a relatively small group of young women, but has grown significantly over the course of two years.

Based on this principle, he founded the Cotchery Foundation as the umbrella for a number of initiatives aimed at helping children in economically distressed areas in New Jersey and elsewhere to tap into the power of their potential. Foremost among these are literacy programs, in which Mercedes (whom he met at North Carolina State) is deeply involved. The foundation supports the purchase of computer software designed to improve literacy by allowing users to work at their own pace. “The software is geared to [the students], individually,” Mercedes explains. “The curriculum progresses according to the child’s unique skill set and talent.”

The foundation provides the software to various schools, and teachers and administrators offer Jerricho and Mercedes periodic updates on the students’ progress throughout the year.

The literacy programs complement the foundation’s other, more hands-on initiatives, like football camps—which Cotchery is involved with in New Jersey, as well as in his native Birmingham. The football camps are run in partnership with the National Football League and the New York Jets Foundation.

WHERE THE HEART IS: Jerricho and Mercedes enjoy family moments with daughter Jaycey at home in Watchung.

WHERE THE HEART IS: Jerricho and Mercedes enjoy family moments with daughter Jaycey at home in Watchung.

“Oh man, it’s all about the kids,” Cotchery says of his participation in the football camps. He feels that teaching children about working together, learning from each other, and focusing on a collective goal is vital to their emotional and intellectual development. The camps provide Cotchery with a chance to play coach and mentor, too.

“Once they get a good feel for you, they realize you’re just one of the guys,” says Cotchery. ”They open up. Crack jokes with you. When they open up, you get to see what kind of background they have, and see what avenues you can open up for them.”

He has been able to enlist his teammates in the cause by inviting them to join in on the camps, and attend fundraisers for the couple’s various charitable initiatives. The involvement of his fellow professional athletes has helped the foundation maintain a high profile around the state, and resulted in exponential growth over the past year.

Under the foundation, Mercedes also created a mentorship program at the Pride Academy in East Orange. Mrs. Cotchery’s Girls Club “empowers the volunteer mentors and improves the lives of the students,” says Mercedes. What started out as just a few students participating, has evolved to include the school’s entire seventh and eighth grades.

Modeled after the nationwide RESH 180 (Raising Expectations, Standards, and Honor) motivational curriculum, the Girls Club meets once a week for seven weeks to discuss goals, provide inspiration, and offer the students academic and emotional support to help create a vision for their lives. A new program begins each trimester.

Mercedes, who earned a degree in chemistry from North Carolina State University, helps train the mentors to ensure that they’re “qualified and capable” of helping young women along the path to self-actualization.

“I had a vision in mind,” Mercedes says of the program. She and the other mentors enjoy field trips and bonding time with the girls.

A charming and engaging conversationalist with a stellar sense of humor, Mercedes, 30, says that the girls quickly learn to view her as an older sister, rather than an authority figure. So far, she says the program has allowed the young ladies to get to know one another better, so they can forge lasting relationships that will shelter them during life’s inevitably rough times.

Cotchery jokes that it took Mercedes a while to warm up to the Garden State, but she found her way. The young family—the couple adopted a daughter, Jaycey, in 2007—has adjusted just fine to life in New Jersey. And New Jersey is lucky to have them.

For more information about  the foundation and its fundraising events, visit

Solid Foundation
The Cotchery Foundation combines a number of proactive initiatives aimed at helping children in impoverished circumstances prepare to face the world confidently.

By providing funding for computer software programs specifically structured to improve literacy rates in underfunded schools, the foundation has helped numerous students increase their chances of success in the modern world.

Through football camps, mentorship programs, and speeches at libraries and classrooms around the country, the Cotcherys inspire those less fortunate to strive to achieve the goals they set for themselves.

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