By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 7, 2016) —On the eve of Super Bowl 50, my mind flashes back to the fall of 1999, when I first saw then-prep star Jerricho Cotchery on the gridiron, catching pass after pass for Phillips High School in Birmingham, Ala.
In a few hours, the Carolina Panthers wide receiver, now in his 12th NFL season, will be in front of the bright lights and a global audience in Santa Clara, California, against the Denver Broncos.
But first, some of those initial impressions: Blessed with great hands and concentration, Cotchery was a superb schoolboy performer for the Red Raiders. He also made huge plays for Phillips High as a defensive back with great instincts, knowing how to not let opponents repeatedly do what he did when the ball was thrown his way.
Reporting for The Birmingham News at the time, my notebooks were often filled with game details that featured the play-by-play brilliance of Cotchery, then a senior. He knew what he could do on the field, and he did his job with a quiet confidence and a humility that many stars never exhibited.
After leaving Phillips High, he starred at North Carolina State, teaming up with fellow Alabaman and quarterback Phillip Rivers to give the Wolfpack a potent aerial attack.
Cotchery’s high school, college and pro athletic career is chronicled by al.com’s Josh Bean in this feature: http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2016/02/jerricho_cotchery.html
A key nugget from the article comes from Rivers, speaking about Cotchery: “He probably wasn’t the fastest. He probably wasn’t the biggest. He had as good of hands as anyone. He’s just reliable. You can count on him.”
That same school year, I was assigned to report on the Red Raiders’ basketball games. On several occasions, I had a close-up look at one of Phillips’ inner-city rivalries or other regional foes before packed gyms. Cotchery, a shooting guard, thrived in this environment, stepping to the free-throw line and draining a pair of clutch free throws in one moment, then making back-to-back steals seconds later, or vice versa. He would follow a key rebound with an off-balance jumper or a highlight-reel layup. He did it all. He had no wasted motions moving up and down the court. He was always in the right place at the right time.
An exceptional athlete, Cotchery had the body control, hand-eye coordination, inner confidence and on-the-court/gridiron discipline then that have carried him to great heights as an NFL receiver.
His longevity in the NFL isn’t surprising.