Jerricho Cotchery grew up in a Birmingham, Alabama, neighborhood similar to many others in the inner city across the country, an environment where financial struggles are commonplace.
His parents, Katie and Bob, worked hard to try to provide for the family, but with layoffs and unemployment, their fight was to scrape together just enough money to feed their family.
"Things just didn't go well for them all of the time," recalled Cotchery. "They weren't late for work or anything, they were always on time. But things just didn't work out for them. They got laid off a bunch, and the bills piled up."
Things considered the bare necessities – running water, electricity, three meals a day – became luxuries to the Cotchery family. Often, they simply went without.
"There were many struggles in our household," said Cotchery. "I know a lot of people have the same story, as far as not having running water. In the inner city, that's the way it is. Sometimes you don't have the water on, you go without lights, and sometimes you didn't have food.
"Sometimes you knew the water was going to get cut off. You knew you weren't going to be able to pay the bill. So you loaded up buckets of water. That's what we did. When the electricity was on, if we had to take a bath, we would boil the water on the stove and put it in a bucket. When there was no electricity, I had friends where if I needed something ironed or things of that nature I would go over to their house and do that before school. There were times though when we didn't have enough water so I would take showers at my friend's house before I went to school."
Hand-me-down clothes were his wardrobe, whether they fit or not, passed down from siblings because he was the 12th of 13 kids.
"I remember a pair of hand-me-down Reebok pumps," said Cotchery about one of his first prized possessions. "My feet were too big for them, but I wore them anyway for about three years. I got a new pair of shoes in sixth grade, and the salesman looked at those Reeboks to get my size. They came out with the shoes, but they were too small. They brought out the next bigger size, and that wasn't it. My actual shoe size was three sizes bigger than what I was wearing."
Cotchery admits he never was without food, but what was on the menu was neither well-balanced nor necessarily nutritious.
"It wasn't anything as far as real meals when we struggled," recalled Cotchery. "It was Vienna sausages, potted meat and crackers. Spam was my favorite. I didn't think anything bad about it. That is what we had to eat. My dad tried to get me to eat sardines, but I wasn't about that. Spam on bread. We made it work."
That's the way they went about everything, always making it work. And that is something Cotchery never lost sight of, proudly stating that his parents were his mentors, showing him that no matter how tough things were, you could get through it.
Cotchery is one of several Steelers who recently shared the story of who his mentor is with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania (MPSWPA) in celebration of January being National Mentoring Month.
"We are in our fourth year of partnering with the Pittsburgh Steelers to talk with players about their mentors," said Kristan Allen, director of marketing and communications for The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pa. "This partnership is a natural fit for The Mentoring Partnership because the Steelers have been such great champions of mentoring, both within the community and within their own organization.
"Mentoring helps to build stronger kids and stronger communities. There are currently more than 26,000 youth being mentored in Southwestern Pa. and we need to keep this momentum going. With 815 kids on waiting lists, there is always a need for more volunteer mentors. The Mentoring Partnership has been leading the charge to advance mentoring in our region. Working with the Steelers helps raise awareness of the benefits of mentoring and the need for more mentors."
Cotchery uses the lessons he learned from his parents, their strength and work ethic, in his daily life, from the football field to fatherhood.
"Growing up my parents taught me a lot, especially when it comes to hard work," said Cotchery. "They let me know there were going to be times in life I was going to be faced with many challenges, when I set my goals things were going to be difficult for me and I would have to make a decision…am I going to quit or keep pushing. They let me know first-hand pushing through it and persevering through those hard times was going to pay off in the end. That has stuck with me a long time.
"They made me aware that discipline was going to be a big part of reaching my goals. That has been a big part of who I am. I now try to instill some of those same things into my kids and let them know the path that is ahead of them. Hopefully they can take some of those same things and become who they have been created to be by God."
Learn more about mentoring by visiting The Mentoring Partnership.