STATE COLLEGE — A change of heart redirected Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson’s path from California to Happy Valley.
Dotson, a four-star recruit from Nazareth High, verbally committed to UCLA two years ago, but changed his mind and signed with Penn State in December of 2017.
“Penn State being close to home, my family would get to see me play,” Dotson said at the time. “My friends go to Penn State (and) they would get to see me play. And just playing in front of a big crowd — 107K — I don’t think it gets better than that.”
On Saturday, the sophomore enjoyed his first collegiate touchdown.
Quarterback Sean Clifford lined up in the shotgun on second-and-1 from the Buffalo 28 in the first quarter. Dotson, with redshirt sophomore wide receiver KJ Hamler at his right, raced downfield. Clifford heaved the football toward the end zone and Dotson turned around, just enough to locate the ball. He pulled it in and stumbled backward behind the goal line.
“We both ran corners on the play concept so, Sean kind of put it in the middle of both of us,” Dotson said. “Whoever got there first, to be honest, had it. I just happened to get there.”
“It was a big sigh of relief, I’ve been waiting all year,” Dotson added. “Last year I played a little bit and I couldn’t get it in the end zone. This year I got it in the second game, so that was pretty cool.”
Dotson wasn’t done scoring.
In the third quarter, he froze his defender off the line just enough to slip behind the coverage. With a five-yard cushion between him and his defender, Dotson raced downfield. Clifford, a redshirt sophomore, l threw another pass in his direction and Dotson pulled in it at the Buffalo 22-yard line. He ran untouched to the end zone for the 56-yard score.
“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.”
Through two games, Dotson has 122 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a career-best 109 yards against Buffalo.
At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Dotson’s size isn’t striking. What he lacks in physique, he makes up with his ability to secure catches and his downfield blocking ability, according to Penn State sophomore tight end Pat Freiermuth.
Dotson’s and Hamler’s third-quarter blocks helped create a lane Freiermuth to score a 28-yard touchdown that put Penn State ahead 35-13.
“They’re definitely not big, but they’re strong and physical and explosive,” Freiermuth said. “They don’t take anything from anybody. They are not going to lose their one-on-ones. Coach (Gerad) Parker preaches that with the receivers.”
Through two games, Dotson is just 112 yards and nine receptions shy of setting career-best totals. Penn State coach James Franklin said he knew it only a matter of time before the home state product would establish himself on offense.
“From the day (Dotson) stepped on campus, he was one of those guys that the game just comes easily to him,” Franklin said. “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.”