Photo by Andy Morales (All Sports Tucson)
By Troy Hutchinson
Millions of kids grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL and becoming stars like their favorite players that they see on television. However, chances of achieving this are slim, as according to the NCAA, only 3.8 percent of college football players make it to the next level.
Former Mountain View and Pima Community College (PCC) player Jeff Cotton is closer to making that dream a reality as a practice squad player for the Los Angeles Chargers. While at PCC he was coached by current Athletic Director (AD) Jim Monaco from 2015 to 2017 before the football program got shut down in 2018.
Cotton then moved on to Idaho for his final two years of college football, where he established himself as a top target racking in 1,141 yards on 137 receptions with seven touchdowns caught.
Here is a Q &A with the Chargers practice squad receiver on what it takes to go from a PCC player to NFL practice squad, and much more:
Q: What is it like to make an NFL practice squad roster?
JC: My job is playing football. And that is something I have always told myself that I wanted to do and just prayed about and worked so hard for.
Q: And looking back at your journey to the NFL, it started at Mountain View High School here in Tucson. Talk about the journey from high school to the practice squad, and all the trials and tribulations that took to get to the point where you are today.
JC: It has been a long journey. High school, it was rough. I was hanging out with the wrong people during high school, getting in trouble. I was headed in the wrong direction. If I did not change the way I was acting, I’m about 99 percent sure I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. At one point in time during high school, I told my family and parents that I did not even feel like playing anymore. So there were a lot of ups and downs in high school and even in college. I went to Pima and didn’t get to play at first, and then I got my shot at playing and did well and had a great second year. I appreciate the coaches Monaco and especially coach Ortiz. I was on the phone with him just about every day, figuring out my path to graduation and where I was going to have to take classes. I’ve had many great players and coaches who have helped me along the way, and now I’m here.
Q: What are your thoughts on Pima football going under?
JC: I think it’s unfortunate. It helped me out; it helped me get to a division one school at Idaho. And I know they’ve done that for a lot of other players as well. Division one, two, or three, it gave guys another opportunity to get to the NFL or to get to that next level of football. It was sad to see because of what the program did for individuals not only for sports but also for school. It helped guys get to college that might not have gone otherwise.
Q: Who’s been your biggest mentor this season, and has shown you the ropes of the NFL?
JC: I would go with Jalen Guyton, it’s only his second year. Because during fall camp I was stressed a lot being undrafted, and I’m making mistakes and messing up. My confidence wasn’t there at all. He called me and asked me how I was doing and where I was at mentally. So we were on the phone for hours and he has helped me along the way. He took the same path as being an undrafted player, and now he is having a great year this year with three touchdowns and has become a big part of our offense in the passing game. He has been someone I can just lean on and learn from because he has been through everything I’ve been through.
Q: What have you learned from your wideout coach McGeoghan?
JC: He actually played in the NFL. He’s brilliant and knows the game from a receiver standpoint and as the offense as a whole. I’m just learning from him and picking his brain whenever I can. I realized I didn’t have to ask too much after meetings or any of that because he does a great job of going into depth on the details about the receiver position and why we do the stuff we do as an offense. He is just really smart and knows the game. He was an undrafted free agent coming into the league when he was playing. And he knows what it’s like, how you feel after certain practices or how you feel whether you do good or bad. He’s been through all this.
Q: When you see Arizona with three Tucson area wide outs on its roster, what’s it like seeing Tucson being represented like that?
JC: It’s incredible. I talk to those three guys. I’m really close to Stan (Berryhill), I’ve spoken with Jamarye (Joiner), and it’s just awesome to see. Because when you are in high school, the stigma is that U of A doesn’t recruit Tucson guys. It’s awesome to see especially them being receivers, the playmakers on the team. It’s dope to see that they all came from the same backyard. It’s kind of like they’re just playing Pop Warner again, how they were when they were little; not much has changed.