Like most of his Penn State teammates, Jahan Dotson is back in State College after three months away from campus, ready to become not only the heir apparent to KJ Hamler as the Nittany Lions’ go-to receiver, but also a leader on offense.
That is especially true as the Lions begin their voluntary workouts Monday when the players all will see if they did enough with their home training, running and weightlifting to hit the ground running. To hear Dotson say it, “I just want to see where everyone’s at.”
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“Everyone claims they’ve been working out back home, getting their work in and making sure they’re ready,” he said Thursday in a Zoom conference call with reporters. “I just want to put that to the test the first day and see where the guys are really at, see if guys have been on top of their games. I want to test guys out a little bit the first day.”
That may be the message Dotson wants to deliver starting with the voluntary workouts and continuing right into training camp. With two full seasons of experience and 17 consecutive starts under his belt, he will have a voice with the receivers, including young prospects such as John Dunmore and T.J. Jones.
“One thing I would tell these guys is that you want to come in every day and just prove yourself – prove to someone every day that you're that guy, essentially,” he said. “A lot of the guys we have on our team, they were the best guy on their high school teams.
“You're showing your talent and showing why you came to Penn State, why you were recruited by so many big schools. I would say it's just say coming in every day and just proving yourself.”
As for his own workouts back home in Nazareth, Pa., the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Dotson said he had been “treating them like I’ve been in-season,” keeping his strength at a level that will help him prepare for the 2020 season.
“I tried to get better at something every single day, whether that’s my hands, my footwork, my releases,” he said. “I tried to get better at any little thing so that when the season comes, I’m not a step behind, and that I don’t have to wait a couple of days to get adjusted. I’m ready for the moment when it comes.”
His workouts usually were with his father, Al, in the basement of the family home. He also caught passes from quarterback Anthony Harris, a teammate from Nazareth Area High who is attending Maine, and went to a friend’s “workout warehouse” to do more drills.
While Hamler, a second-round pick of the Denver Broncos, was the Lions’ featured receiver last season, Dotson delivered when called upon. His 27 receptions were good for 488 yards, an 18.1-yard average that ranked 34th in FBS, and five touchdowns. He had four catches of over 40 yards, including a team season-high 72-yard touchdown catch against Purdue.
While away, Dotson talked quite a bit with quarterback Sean Clifford, who was “making sure that we’re on top of our stuff, knowing the playbook and stuff like that.” He also got to throw with Clifford at State College High School “a week or two ago.”
“We were just throwing together, just kind of just getting a feel for each other, getting back into rhythm, and pretty much just taking off,” he said.
Of course, amid all the excitement Dotson and his teammates are experiencing being back with their teammates, the cloud of the current pandemic stays over the Nittany Lions and the nation’s other football programs as they try to find a sense of normal and stay safe.
One of the keys, Dotson said, is that everyone be smart and not put members of the team at risk.
“There’s definitely going to have to be some accountability toward guys going out and the risk of getting sick,” he said. “So yeah, that comes from a leadership role. Honestly, I’m just going to have to take on the task myself to let guys know that we need you. We need everyone hands-on, all aboard. We’re not going to be able to do this thing without each other.