Fueled by family's sacrifices, Jahan Dotson breaks record, leads Penn State to win

JON SAUBER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) makes a catch against Maryland defensive back Nick Cross (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Jahan Dotson

COLLEGE PARK — Jahan Dotson walked outside of the confines of Maryland Stadium after Penn State's 31-14 win over Maryland on Saturday and toward a throng of waiting supporters.

A group of 10 or so family members awaited the Penn State wide receiver as he handed his beloved football — which he takes everywhere with him — to another family member.

Dotson took the time to hug each person there to see him — a small portion of the estimated 20-30 family members from all across the country who got together to celebrate a few birthdays and watch the star take his game to another level. Among them is his mother — who is fighting multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in blood cells — donning a mask that features her son in uniform, and surely covers a smile.

That family is what pushes the senior to succeed on the football field and helped elevate him to an emotional record-breaking night against the Maryland Terrapins.

"I had a lot of family members here today," Dotson said following the win. "A lot of them seeing me play for the first time. It was a special night. ... I had my main supporters, my mom, my dad, my grandpa was here. But I had a lot of aunts and uncles traveling in from across the country."

The family's abdication of its time and energy for the wide receiver as a child is something he did not take lightly, his eyes filling with tears as he spoke about what they've given and the number of people in College Park to support him.

"That's what makes me go so much harder, just my family. They support me literally through everything," Dotson said his eyes filling with tears and his voice beginning to crack.

He pauses.

"I'm kind of getting emotional here. They're like my rock. My parents, they sacrificed so much for me. To do this, what I did tonight. It's huge."

The star receiver continued answering questions, his eyes shimmering and his voice cracking as he recalled everything his parents gave and continue to give. The three-hour trips from home to see him on Thanksgiving — even if only for an hour. The car rides to football camps across the country. Those sacrifices gave him all of the drive he needed to put on a show for those Dotson loves.

Record-setting effort: He put that motivation to perform well in front of his family on full display against the Terps, breaking the Penn State single-game receiving yards record with 242 in the game on 11 catches and three touchdowns for good measure.

He carved up the Maryland secondary, which seemingly had no chance to defend him. His first touchdown came on a double move, where he began to run a slant route across the middle of the field before cutting up the field and taking off past Maryland safety Nick Cross.

His second was more basic, a relatively easy pitch and catch with Dotson hauling in a slightly overthrown ball from redshirt senior Sean Clifford.

The third was part of the magic of Dotson. Another double move, this time splitting two Maryland defenders to create just enough space downfield and a lofted pass that fell into his hands. Two defensive players had good angles to bring down the receiver. Six seconds later, both were out of the play, with a third defender lying face first in the grass at the 20-yard-line, 20 yards behind Dotson who had just crossed the goal line.

Feeding him the ball: Sometimes wide receivers get into a zone, as the senior said, and when that happens, it becomes imperative to make sure he's fully turned loose. That puts the onus on the coaching staff to make sure he gets the ball.

"Each week our plan is to get Jahan Dotson as many touches as possible," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "That's what you have to do with your best players and he came through for us time and time again tonight."

Dotson doesn't have to say anything to make that happen. Clifford said as much following the game. The wide receiver never asked to get his targets or get the ball in his hands.

But the quarterback knows he wants it, and knows it's essential that the ball finds its way to his top option on the outside.

"He always wants the ball," Clifford said. "Always wants the ball. Yes. If he could get the ball every play he would because that's just the guy that he is. He wants the ball in his hands because he knows the talent that he brings to the team. I want the ball in his hands as much as possible. He's a great player."

A leader with an unmatched work ethic: The star receiver's lack of demanding the ball isn't much of a surprise. He's a player several teammates describe as hard-working and quiet — as a leader and a player with an unmatched work ethic.

But for Dotson it's not about showing off those things. They're just a part of who he is. Because, at the end of the day, he's playing a game — one that he loves.

The level of performance he reached is unfathomable for most and not something he's willing to take for granted.

"It's fun," he said. "It's a kid's dream. I'm literally a kid out here having fun playing the game that I love. Games like this are special."

Dotson's dream has long been a reality. Now, he is one of the best college football players on the planet.

The quiet, humble son of parents who have given him their world, has done everything in his power to give them all he has in return.