State College head coach Matt Lintal keeps close tabs on Penn State's recruiting class and was familiar with 2018 signee Jahan Dotson from afar. But after watching the four-star Nazareth wideout live in practices leading up to this weekend's Big 33 Classic, Lintal still found himself stunned.
"One-on-one, he's a nightmare for a defense," the Pennsylvania team's wide receivers coach said. "He sets up defenders as well anybody I've ever worked with. I'm excited to watch him on Saturday."
And sooner or later, Lintal and thousands more will watch him on Saturdays at Beaver Stadium. Dotson — the No. 6 prospect in Pennsylvania and No. 36 wideout in the 2018 class, per 247 Sports — could be a future starter in the slot for the Nittany Lions.
To those who may not recognize Dotson by name right off the bat, it's somewhat understandable. The 5-foot-11 pass-catcher was a late flip from UCLA, with his surprise choice on December's early signing day overshadowed by Micah Parsons' looming decision. Dotson joined a well-established class of wideouts, with five-star stud Justin Shorter and four-star Daniel George committing to Penn State in August 2016 and July 2017, respectively.
But the record-holding receiver isn't someone to sleep on. Dotson — who tallied 187 receptions, 2,755 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns with Nazareth — has dazzled at Big 33 practices this week, beating defensive backs with relative ease and causing teammates and coaches alike to shake their heads in disbelief. Pennsylvania head coach Mark Evans called him "one heck of an athlete," and he is looking forward to the wideout showcasing that this weekend.
Right now, he's on the Maryland team's radar. But in a few weeks, Dotson will enroll at Penn State — and in a year's time, he could be holding the Big Ten's interest.
"I'm coming in, and I have no role. I'm just going to play fearless. I'm going to go out there and give it all I have," Dotson said of first-year expectations in Happy Valley. "I'm going to try to get on the field as early as possible. ...It's going to be a tight race in the offseason."
Realistically, Dotson's impact will be felt in a year or two down the line, not 2018. Veteran wideouts Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk return, while spring darlings K.J. Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer figure to earn time. Count Shorter — the No. 1 wideout in the country — in that equation, and it'll be tough for Dotson to break through.
Dotson believes his ability to play inside or outside will help him stand out to Penn State's staff from the jump. But it will likely be the former that becomes his calling card. Dotson likens himself to Hamler — a fellow high school track star and possibly Penn State's starting slot receiver this season.
"Oh yeah," State College wideout and Penn State walk-on Brandon Clark said. "I can see that (comparison). His routes are clean, and KJ's are clean, too. Then it's just his speed and his hands."
Clark's high school coach thinks Dotson has a future in the slot, too.
"That's his home," Lintal said. "In that slot, it's his quickness, his lateral movement, his ability to work defenders and find those zones. He can make a safety go wherever he wants him to go based on the stem of his route, and he understands where that underneath coverage is going to be. He finds those holes extremely well."
Don't be surprised if Dotson posts a stellar stat line on Saturday. The wideout said he's "going to lay it all out there" for his final high school appearance before taking his stunning slot talents to State College.
Penn State fans in the stands of Landis Field ought to keep an eye on No. 3.
"I could see him someday being in the pros," Evans said. "He's very coachable. If he takes that coachability to Penn State and his work ethic, the sky's the limit."