As the recruiting process continued, Athens advanced to the Alabama state playoffs. In the semifinal round, Rivers's Athens squad would square off against Phillips High School of Birmingham. Little did Rivers know that he'd be facing an opponent who would go on to help him break every significant passing record at NC State one day.
Pate was well-aware of Jerricho Cotchery, however. He had been recruiting the Phillips receiver since just after his sophomore campaign. Pate had been pointed in Cotchery's direction ever since a local, well-respected coach told him that Cotchery was the best player in the area, saying, "I'll tell you, he's a great player. He's the kind of kid Florida State plays with."
Southern Miss and UAB were also chasing Cotchery, but at the time he was perhaps better known as a basketball player on the AAU circuit. His relative anonymity in recruiting circles was largely due to the fact that Cotchery didn't attend any camps or combines.
"With Alabama and Auburn and even other schools, a lot of times, if a kid doesn't come to camp and another kid is pretty close, then they'll take the kid that came to camp," said Pate. "With Jerricho, he probably just couldn't afford to go to camp."
The harder Pate looked at Cotchery, the more he liked what he was seeing. In doing his due diligence by asking around about Cotchery's character, Pate received glowing reports.
So once more, Pate was more than happy to happy to take a player that the in-state powers bypassed—for reasons he's still not quite sure of.
"I did my homework and asked around to the other coaches about what kind of kid he was and they all just had great things to say about him, not just as a player but as a person," said Pate. "The school, the teachers just loved him. He was ‘yes sir, no sir' and again, I don't do anybody else's business, but how he got out of state, I don't know. It just happens sometimes and it worked out great for him."
Not only did it work out great for Cotchery, but for Rivers and the Wolfpack as well. The duo helped guide State to four straight bowl games and teamed up to establish marks that may never be broken in Raleigh. Rivers set NCAA records for starts (51) and yards per attempt (9.55) on his way to school records in yards (13,484), touchdown passes (95) and other categories too numerous to name. Cotchery set school records in receptions (200) and 100-yard games (15), racking up 3,119 receiving yards and 21 scores.
One of Pate's few regrets for the duo is that they only had the benefit of passing-game guru Norm Chow as offensive coordinator for one season. The tandem worked under three different coordinators in their four years, and according to Pate, Rivers knew the offense better than most of the coaches during his time at NC State.
Both players have emerged as standouts and franchise mainstays in the NFL. Rivers is a Pro Bowler for the San Diego Chargers, having established himself as one of the league's very best quarterbacks, while Cotchery is the most dependable receiving threat for the New York Jets.
In many ways, Rivers and Cotchery couldn't be more different on the field. The unassuming Cotchery is cut in the mold of former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders, simply tossing the ball to the nearest referee after scoring a touchdown and jogging back to the huddle after big plays.
The fiery Rivers, however, is known to mix it up with opposing defensive linemen and defensive backs, serving as San Diego's emotional leader. Occasionally, that exuberant demeanor has been taken the wrong way, leading some to tag Rivers with the reputation as being brash or cocky. Pate feels that Rivers's behavior is often misconstrued, noting that the signal-caller has always been the same way.
"Philip, practicing football or playing in game, is like a kid at Christmas time," said Pate. "He just loves it and is so excited.
"Anything he does on the field interacting with players, fans or whatever is certainly not in the wrong spirit. Like I said, he's like a kid at Christmastime, just enjoying what he does."
For Pate and the Pack, getting the ‘Bama Boys in the Class of 2000 was like "Christmas time" as well.
Editor's Note: Recruiting analyst Steve Williams contributed to this report.