The final conversations between Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson and his grandmother before she died were over the telephone from her hospital room. He said their talks always included the words, “I love you. How are you doing?”
Gloria Bigelow, 75, died last April in Orange, N.J. But she continues to encourage and inspire her grandson as she did last Saturday night when Dotson played the best game of his college career – eight receptions for 144 yards and three touchdowns, one of them on a leaping one-handed catch – in a 38-25 loss to Ohio State.
After Saturday night’s game, Dotson told reporters, “I was talking to her before the game. She let me know, ‘The opportunity is there, just take it.’ That’s what I did. I capitalized on the opportunities.”
“Ever since she passed, she’s actually been with me the whole time,” Dotson said Wednesday in a Zoom conference call with the media. “I’ve just been asking her to be by my side, keep me healthy and all those things like that, look over us, look over the family, and just little stuff like that, telling her that I love her.”
Dotson, who carries a T-shirt with her image on it with him, said his grandparents were always there for him when he was growing up and had a huge impact in his development. In addition to football games, they also attended basketball games and track-and-field meets when he was in high school.
“My grandparents are some of the most supportive people in the world, honestly,” the junior from Nazareth, Pa., said. “They probably have eight or nine grandkids and we all play sports. They tried to make every single game, whether I was traveling to South Jersey or where I live, Nazareth, or anything. They were always trying to be there for all of us. We couldn’t have asked for better grandparents than them.”
Dotson had been considered a rising star in the Penn State program. He started four games as a freshman and caught 13 passes, then improved his production to 27 catches for 488 yards and five touchdowns last year as the second wide receiver behind KJ Hamler.
With the wide receiver ranks a little thin and inexperienced behind him in 2020, Dotson was being looked upon by coach James Franklin as the focal point in the passing game. He has stepped up his performance the first two games, including a 60-yard touchdown catch at Indiana.
“I’m super-proud of Jahan, obviously a local kid who’s really come here and just really grown and matured in so many areas,” Franklin said last week. “I think he’s got a really, really bright future in the rest of his Penn State career and afterwards as well.”
Dotson’s exploits Saturday night received national attention. One play before his spectacular one-handed reception, he secured control of a catch with one hand and pinned it against his helmet as he fell to the ground. But the next catch generated countless texts, a number he called “insane.”
“I honestly tried to respond to everyone as quick as possible,” he said, “just because I knew that coming into next week, it would be another game and I can’t be focused on myself like that. So I tried to respond to everyone and hopefully I did.”
Senior cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields said that while he was surprised Dotson snared a one-handed catch in a game, that move is otherwise “so routine.”
“That’s just what he does,” he said. “He can make one-hand catches, he makes off-balance catches and he provides a real good matchup. He’s quick. He’s deceptive with his releases off the line, his route running. He’s a complete receiver. I know he’s going to take off this season and keep building on his performance from last week.”
Dotson wants to keep building not only his performance as a football player but also in life.
“You’ve just got to pay attention to those little things you’re not doing and just better yourself in those,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do over these past two weeks, and it’s been paying off.”
His grandmother would be very proud.