FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Less than seven months removed from a season-ending right leg injury, 4-star receiver recruit Jahan Dotson feels ready to remind defenders how difficult life is while lined up across from him. He’s also entering the final stages of a widespread recruitment that includes nearly 30 scholarship offers.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound prospect told Land of 10 he expects to announce a commitment this summer. Dotson discussed that impending decision and the key contenders Sunday following The Opening’s New Jersey regional camp at the New York Jets headquarters.
“I’m trying to narrow it down, and right now I have a few Big Ten schools in the mix,” he said.
Dotson identified Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State as programs that have separated themselves from the crowded pack of suitors. His offer list also includes schools such as Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Tennessee and USC.
Though he isn’t ready to declare this trio of Big Ten title contenders as the “finalists,” Dotson admitted it’s “probably just those three” as he considers his college options.
“Those programs have tradition, a winning history and great coaches,” he said. “They’re not too far from home, so that plays a big part with my family when we talk things over. The education is also great at all three of those schools.”
Dotson, an East Orange, N.J., native who attends the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., spent much of his childhood and adolescence in Pennsylvania. He spent underclassman years at Nazareth (Pa.) High School, establishing himself among the region’s most compelling young athletes.
A 2015 Pennsylvania Football Writers’ Class 4A all-state selection, Dotson collected 65 catches for 1,174 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore, according to Stephen Miller of The (Allentown) Morning Call. He added 2 special teams touchdowns and 4 interceptions, returning a pair of picks for scores.
“Every time he steps on the field, he’s the best player,” Peddie School coach Chris Malleo said.
His athletic prowess also extends beyond the football field.
Dotson’s final appearance in a Nazareth uniform — at the 2016 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association track and field championships — ended with him wearing gold medals for the 400-meter relay and long jump.
Nazareth's Jahan Dotson hit 24 feet, 4.5 inches in the PIAA 3A long jump. pic.twitter.com/z9GgeRFkI5
— Morning Call Varsity (@lvvarsity) May 28, 2016
His ensuing transfer to Peddie — a program that perennially produces FBS talent — occurred with a high level of hype. Through the first month of Dotson’s junior football season, any expectations were matched and arguably exceeded.
He recorded 23 receptions for 503 yards (21.9 yards per catch) and 3 touchdowns through the first five games, according to MaxPreps. Dotson, who also took reps as the team’s No. 2 quarterback, gained 251 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on 22 carries.
Then came an Oct. 14 matchup against The Lawrenceville School, a nearby rival.
Dotson posted 3 catches for 58 yards and added 3 rushing scores before his scintillating start at Peddie reached an abrupt halt. He broke two bones in his right leg and didn’t run another route in the fall.
Still, an abbreviated junior campaign didn’t extinguish a growing sample size of success.
“He’s unlike anything I’ve seen on a high school football field before,” said Noah DeHond, a senior Peddie offensive tackle and 2017 Clemson signee.
His quarterback — 2018 Vanderbilt commit Allan Walters — knows the kind of weapon his offense welcomes back this fall.
“His routes are so smooth, he can make anybody miss, and — probably the most impressive thing — he makes it all look effortless,” Walters said.
TD came back due to holding but I'm not NOT going to share this move by 2018 WR @JaHeisman_5…
Offers include Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson pic.twitter.com/8LUf6nJFR0
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) October 8, 2016
Dotson, listed No. 15 among WRs and No. 73 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings for 2018, is a polished prospect. His skill set translates seamlessly to the slot position in a college attack, and he’s a capable kick returner.
So, on which Big Ten campus will he land?
He most recently visited Penn State, spending the spring game (April 22) weekend with coaches and commits. Dotson watched the football team compete Saturday and stayed overnight, then attended a Nittany Lions baseball game Sunday alongside football coach James Franklin.
“I’ll definitely remember how the coaches treated me,” he said. “Coach Franklin has a really strong relationship with me and my family, so that really helps in the recruiting process.”
Dotson also developed chemistry with 5-star Penn State quarterback pledge Justin Fields.
“Justin and I created a great relationship [during the spring game visit],” he said. “He’s kind of a laid-back, quiet guy, and that’s kind of like me, so we bonded together.”
Since Dotson received a Penn State offer in December 2015, his friends from Nazareth have attempted to steer him toward the in-state squad. His rapport with Nittany Lions receivers coach Josh Gattis could be a difference-maker if he ends up in Happy Valley.
“Coach Gattis talks about getting me the ball in a lot of different ways, so that would be cool for me,” Dotson said.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected former Penn State receiver Chris Godwin in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft on Friday night. New Jersey product Juwan Johnson is eyed as a potential replacement in his redshirt sophomore season, and another Garden State pass catcher is the program’s longest-standing 2018 commitment.
Justin Shorter, a 4-star WR from South Brunswick (N.J.) High School, would love to add another New Jersey playmaker into the mix. He raved about Dotson on Sunday, hours after earning an invitation to The Opening finals, which will take place in July at Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.
“Jahan is one of the greatest [high school receivers] that I’ve seen,” Shorter said. “I’ve watched his film, I’ve seen him in person, and it’s just awesome to witness the things he can do. He can catch a 5-yard hitch, break [defenders’] ankles and score.”
Shorter stands 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, using length and physicality to beat opponents. That style of play contrasts with the smaller, shifty Dotson.
Dotson said he views this potential Penn State duo as complementary components of an intimidating aerial attack.
“We would just basically feed off each other,” he said. “I think we could dominate together at any level.”
Shorter said he plans to pursue Dotson for the duration of his recruitment.
“If he committed – and I’m trying hard to make that happen – it would be another exciting piece for a PSU offense that can be unstoppable,” Shorter said.
Penn State leads the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, securing 67 percent of experts’ projections. Dotson said the Nittany Lions probably are pushing for his pledge the hardest at this point, but he isn’t done evaluating his choices.
Along with another visit to State College this summer, Dotson said he anticipates return trips to Michigan and Ohio State before announcing his decision.
He speaks frequently with Wolverines assistant Chris Partridge, a former New Jersey high school football coach whose efforts contribute greatly toward Michigan’s recent recruiting success in the area. Dotson visited Ann Arbor last summer.
“All the facilities were really nice, and I like how it was kind of in the city,” he said.
It’s worth mentioning that Dotson last fall called his father a “huge” Buckeyes fan, so that adds a wrinkle to his Ohio State outlook. So does coach Urban Meyer, a three-time national champion whose program produced six top-70 selections in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“Coach Meyer knows how to prepare people on and off the field for the next level,” Dotson said.
Many expect Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State to compete for the 2017 Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff next season. Long before any trophies are handed out, one of these teams will edge the others in a notable recruiting race.
Dotson said whichever school ultimately provides an undefined “it factor” will win this three-way pursuit, and the outcome could be determined within a few months.
Land of 10 writer Corey Masisak contributed to this story.