How one video call helped three Nittany Lions decide to return for 2021
Jaquan Brisker doesn’t remember the origins of the group text he participates in with Jahan Dotson and Tariq Castro-Fields, but he can recall the essence of the message that would have a strong impact on the composition of Penn State’s 2021 roster.
On that FaceTime call, Dotson, Brisker and Castro-Fields all decided that they would return to Penn State for another season. Dotson would return for a fourth season, and Brisker and Castro-Fields would exercise the option for a fifth season of eligibility granted to them because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFL could wait.
“We just told ourselves we’re going to come back, man,” Brisker said. “It’s going to be better than what we did last year. We’re coming back for a reason. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder. We’re going to bring back the normal. We can’t set the standard how we did last year. We’ve got to go above and beyond, so that’s basically what the conversation was about and then we made our decision and we came back.”
In explaining each of their individual decisions over the last two weeks, Brisker, Castro-Fields and Dotson each cited a dissatisfaction with Penn State’s poor performance last season, when it started the season 0-5 and finished 4-5 — the Nittany Lions’ first losing record since 2004.
“We didn’t want to leave on a bad note,” Brisker said. “We knew we had more to give to the fans.”
It would be difficult to overstate the impact of their collective choice on Penn State’s overall outlook for 2021.
Brisker was rated by Pro Football Focus as the second-best safety in the Big Ten last season. Dotson led the Big Ten in receiving yards with 884 — over 100 yards more than Chris Olave of Ohio State. Castro-Fields dealt with an injury that kept him off the field for much of the season, but he has proven to be an effective cornerback when healthy.
Those three also happen to be close friends, according to Dotson. Brisker is a favorite video game partner of his and Castro-Fields is constantly hanging out at Dotson’s house.
“My relationship with those guys is unmatched,” Dotson said. “I’m with those guys literally every single day.”
Before the video call where they ultimately made their decision, they weighed the pros and cons of staying and going together.
Castro-Fields wanted another chance to prove himself after an injury held him out for much of last season — including his senior night. Dotson is determined to build on last year’s breakout season. He wants to be “legendary.” Brisker knows he can improve his ball skills, and is eager for a chance to show that he can play both safety positions.
“Every little detail, we were talking about it,” Dotson said. “We came to the decision that it was best for us, best for the team, best for our families...everything. We felt like it was the right decision to come back and just give our all, literally every single day, competing with those guys. They’re some of the best in the country, and we know that going against each other every single day is only going to make us better and prepare us for the next level, so that was a big thing for us.”
So was correcting a 2020 campaign of which nobody of a Penn State persuasion was satisfied.
Both Dotson and Castro-Fields spoke about their legacy, and wanting to be remembered for something other than last year’s 4-5 record. Penn State head coach James Franklin is always preaching about championship habits and the standard of Penn State football, and none of the three players wanted to leave having let that bar drop.
“We wanted to be those leaders on the team who set the standard for years to come after us,” Dotson said. “We know that Penn State football is used to winning, and that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to meet that standard, and we felt like this is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase our challenge and meet that standard and achieve some great goals.”
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