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‘Truly a dream come true:’ Jahan Dotson savors moment, relishes opportunity

Commanders Coach Ron Rivera watches as wide receiver Jahan Dotson, the team's first round draft pick, speaks at a news conference Friday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The night Jahan Dotson’s dream came true, he couldn’t fall asleep. Even a few hours after the surprise call that changed his life, after the party with family and friends had died down, after he had gone upstairs to his bedroom at his parent’s house in a Pennsylvania town called Nazareth, he still felt too wired. Sometime after 2 a.m., he said, he booted up one of the video games he plays to unwind, “Call of Duty: Vanguard.”

Less than 12 hours later in Ashburn, Washington Coach Ron Rivera introduced Dotson as the first draft pick of the Commanders era. Rivera said the slight but speedy wide receiver, who will wear No. 1, will be expected to assume a fairly sizable role as a rookie in an upgraded offense. Rivera smiled from the side as Dotson, 22, spoke in a calm and steady voice that he said illustrates his personality. He called himself “a quiet kid who’s pretty much looking to just play football.”

“Honestly, you’ll probably hear me say this a lot, but [this is] a dream come true,” he said. “It’s truly a dream come true. It’s something I’ve been working toward all my life, and I’m just ecstatic to be in this moment.”

In the auditorium, Dotson could see five familiar faces beaming back at him: his father, Al; his mother, Robin; his cousin John Porter; Porter’s wife, Linda; and his best friend, Maiham. Dotson pointed to their presence and the unopened texts on his phone — more than he ever could’ve imagined — as examples of his strong support system.

Dotson said he also heard from Desmond Howard, the former Michigan and NFL wideout, as well as new Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz, who congratulated him and told him to enjoy the moment.

Commanders draft tracker: In Jahan Dotson, Washington gets speedy, versatile receiver

“I read the text about five times because I couldn’t believe Carson Wentz was texting my phone,” Dotson said. “It’s pretty cool, honestly. …Watching him play for the Eagles, watching him play for the Colts, and being able to play alongside of him is honestly a dream come true.”

It had been a long day for the Dotsons. After going to bed at 2 a.m., Robin said, Al got up two hours later to drive her to the hospital. Robin was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects bone marrow, in 2019. After a short remission, the cancer returned last year, and she has continued receiving treatment.

A few hours later, the Dotsons boarded the private jet of team owner Daniel Snyder and flew to Dulles International Airport. A black GMC Yukon drove them to the team facility, and Dotson was carrying a football when he greeted Rivera at the front door.

Despite Dotson’s other athletic talents — in high school, he was a standout basketball player and track and field champion in the long jump and 400-meter relay — his parents said he always loved football most. Dotson attributed his exceptional hands, which NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah called “the best in the class,” to two things.

First, hard work: “I play catch with myself all the time, throwing the ball to myself, practicing one-handed catches [lying] in my bed.”

Second, his cousins. Dotson is the youngest of eight cousins and remembers how demanding they were growing up. When they played catch at the park, Jahan was forced by his cousin Phil to do 10 push-ups for each drop — even at 3 or 4 years old.

“So catching a football has always been something that I kind of didn’t take for granted,” he said. “I think of that in the back of my head every single time I drop a ball.”

Phil wasn’t the only family member who pushed Jahan. A reporter asked Friday if it was true that, when he wanted to quit basketball in middle school, his father wouldn’t let him.

Dotson laughed.

“Yeah, a lot of long Sunday afternoons spent in the gym when I did not want to,” he said. “Early mornings, getting up, training for basketball.” Al smiled, the toothpick in his mouth angling up with his eyebrows.

“My dad always taught me to never just be a football player — always be an athlete,” Dotson continued, “because it can take you a long way. Just little life lessons like that stuck out with me throughout my life, so super thankful for him.”

Al blinked quickly. His smile softened. Later, after his son and wife said they hadn’t cried following Jahan’s selection, he laughed and said: “I might’ve shed a tear! Might’ve!”

Touring the Commanders’ facility, Dotson met linebacker Khaleke Hudson. Al and Robin were impressed by a display in Rivera’s office recounting the franchise’s history. Dotson said he was in some ways ready for the NFL because his former roommates at Penn State — Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Odafe Oweh — had prepared him. But he still had a hard time believing he was here.

Dotson, who grew up a Cowboys fan, embraced his new side of the rivalry and talked a little trash.

“It’s going to be amazing, honestly, to play [Parsons] twice a year, beat him twice a year,” Dotson said.

Later, on Twitter, Parsons responded with 11 broom emoji, a picture of him sacking Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke last season and the caption: “how you gonna get the ball han?!”

In the three months until training camp, Dotson has a lot to do. He has to relocate, learn a new playbook and build relationships with his teammates, including Wentz and star wideout Terry McLaurin. He has to start soon — rookie minicamp begins Thursday — and prepare for the longest season of his life.

If any of this was weighing on him, he didn’t show it.

“I’m just kind of taking this moment in. … Not looking too far ahead in the future, because then things can pass you on,” he said. “But just enjoying every moment that I’m in, just living my dream.”