The last time Jahan Dotson had made his father, Al, cry was when he received his first scholarship offer as a sophomore at Nazareth Area High School, about three hours east of Penn State, back in 2015.
The Nittany Lions weren’t the first team to offer Dotson, but they were quick to recognize his talents, becoming the second Division I school to give him an offer.
A little less than four years later, after a long recruiting process in which he first committed to UCLA before changing his mind on national signing day and committing to the Nittany Lions, he made his father cry again.
This time, it was because he caught his first collegiate touchdown pass: a 28-yard score in the first quarter of Penn State’s 45-13 win Saturday over Buffalo.
Immediately after he came down with the pass –– which could have been caught by either him or teammate KJ Hamler –– he thought of his parents.
“Seeing my parents drive an hour, two hours every day just to put food on my plate,” Dotson said Wednesday, “that’s why I just want to do everything possible to give that back to them.”
Dotson caught three more passes Saturday, one featuring a gorgeous double move that resulted in Dotson’s second touchdown of the night.
“The coaches on the sideline said they were going to call the play pretty soon on the drive, so they called a little double move for me,” Dotson said. “I broke the cornerback off and he bit on the comeback pretty hard, and I was able to make the play.”
That strike capped an impressive second-half display for Dotson and the offense as a whole.
“It felt like I was back in high school,” Dotson said. “One of those 7 o’clock games on a Friday night.”
In that big second half, Dotson looked like the player the Penn State coaches had fallen in love with while he was at Nazareth.
“From the day [Dotson] stepped on campus, he was one of those guys that the game just comes easily to him,” coach James Franklin said after Saturday’s game. “His body control, his ball skills, his ability to change direction and make people miss, the double move that he ran there at the end of the quarter, he did a really good job.”
But there is something noticeably different about this version of Dotson: his size.
Dotson said he’s about 15 pounds heavier than he was as a freshman last season, and everyone around him has taken notice.
“He has gotten bigger, he has gotten stronger and more explosive, which is going to allow him to make more big plays in terms of yards and in terms of running through defensive backs and getting your hands off,” Franklin said. “I think he is getting close to the point where he’s got a Big Ten body that we need him to have.”
Added wide receivers coach Gerad Parker: “I think him being stronger and those things allows him to separate even more from guys when they really start to get up close to him and face man coverage and those things.”
Dotson had to work hard over the offseason to put on the weight, and he noted that he focused heavily on his diet and sleep habits to do so. He did all that because he knew he was going to have to play a key role in the Nittany Lions offense this season, and beyond.
He said his first touchdown was “a big sigh of relief.” But, as he proved Saturday when he hauled in his second touchdown, there’s more work to do.