By Steve Andrews | Photo by Sadie Rucker
Don’t judge Fayetteville’s Isaiah Sategna too quickly, or you might just reach and miss.
Sure, his God-given athletic talent is evident to anyone who has seen him perform. And that million-dollar smile is as wholesome as the tight-knit family unit in which he was raised.
But if you meander through all the accolades of being Arkansas’ top-rated prep football player, as well as being the state’s fastest athlete, with uncanny jumping ability, you will find a humble young man whose sole focus is to improve himself every day — both on the field and to those around him.
His ultimate goals are on a short list that include playing in the National Football League and running for the United States in the Olympic Games. But what might seem too lofty to most appear attainable for such a gifted, driven athlete.
“He is just a hard worker that comes out and approaches every single day, trying to improve to be the best at what he does,” Fayetteville football coach Casey Dick said. “He’s a kid who makes everyone around him a better player and a better person, and his teammates just love him.”
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Sategna led the state and was No. 2 in the nation with 102 catches this season with 1,908 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns, including three scores on jet-sweep handoffs. Even more impressive is the fact that he put up those numbers often facing double- and triple-team coverages.
Fayetteville (10-3) finished second in the state’s Class 7A this season, falling to top-ranked Bryant, 42-38, in the championship game Dec. 4. Sategna caught eight passes in the final game for 168 yards and a spectacular 50-yard touchdown grab. Two weeks prior, he had 17 catches for 261 yards and a touchdown in a 34-27 quarterfinal win over Cabot.
“We had a great season, although I wish we could have gone all the way,” Sategna said. “But we brought Fayetteville football back to where it belongs.”
Yet, it was the off-the-field news that Sategna broke on Nov. 3 that got many throughout the state a little giddy — particularly Razorbacks fans — when he announced that he was flipping his college pledge from the University of Oregon to the University of Arkansas. The 4-star commit, rated as the No. 22 wide receiver nationally by Rivals, added to an already impressive 2022 class for the Razorbacks. With the addition of Sategna, Arkansas’ 20-signee haul jumped four spots to No. 13 in the national rankings. He will sign his letter-of-intent at Fayetteville High School on Wednesday.
Sategna is quick to acknowledge his biggest regret in the entire process was not letting his recruitment completely play out before making his initial college choice. Falling victim to some of the pressures of college recruiting tactics, he had initially committed to Texas A&M in March. He liked the fact that the A&M football program had finished fourth in the nation last season, that the Aggies’ staff was reaching out to him daily, and that the school also had a strong track program.
“They were really pushing me and telling me what I wanted to hear, and they were calling me every single day and kind of pressuring me to commit,” he said. “So, I went ahead and committed, and knew that I could change my mind if I wanted to. Looking back, I wish I would have waited until I started taking my visits, because it would have saved me a lot of grief. After a while, I knew I kind of screwed up, because I didn’t really look at my other options. Then after I committed, I didn’t feel like they were treating me like they were before I committed. It didn’t seem like they really valued me anymore. I finally took my first official visit to A&M in June, and I really didn’t like the atmosphere there and the way they were treating me.”
He decommitted from the Aggies in June to reopen his recruitment and take advantage of visiting other schools. His second visit was to Oregon, and he left feeling impressed by the coaches and the facilities. After following that with a visit to USC, he was leaning toward either the Trojans or the Ducks, ultimately choosing Oregon in July.
Although Arkansas was the first of his 25-plus Division I offers, Sategna was leery of the Razorbacks program because of its recent struggles and turmoil under former coach Chad Morris, and the fact that the quarterback situation was unsettled at the time — an important factor in the equation for a receiver.
“I had told Arkansas I wasn’t really interested, because of how the program had been in recent years, and I wasn’t sure how good KJ (Jefferson) was going to be,” he said. “As a receiver, I wanted to go somewhere who had proven quarterbacks, like USC or Oregon. So, the Razorbacks just stopped recruiting me to concentrate on other guys.”
Sategna grew up in Austin, Texas, attending games and rooting for the hometown Longhorns. Although his dream had been to one day play in burnt orange, Texas never showed any interest. But, ironically, it was attending a Longhorns game that caused him to rethink his entire future. Sategna sat in the stands with his friends inside Razorback Stadium when the old Southwest Conference foes came to Fayetteville on Sept. 11.
“I went to the Texas game thinking how Texas was going to win,” he recalled. “I didn’t go as a recruit, but I was hoping Arkansas was going to win so I didn’t have to listen to all my friends from back home (in Austin) talking trash. Then Arkansas killed Texas, and I was not expecting that. And the atmosphere in the stadium that day, I haven’t seen anything like that since I was growing up going to some of those big Texas games.
“After that game I really started to think about Arkansas, then I went down to Dallas for the Texas A&M game, and I think it topped the Texas-game atmosphere. Especially playing in that (AT&T) stadium, it was just crazy. So, on that 5-hour drive back home to Fayetteville, I really started thinking I might want to go to Arkansas, because I was really liking what I was seeing.”
Sategna transferred to Fayetteville High School three years ago, midway through his freshman year. His father, Mario, who was the head track coach at Texas, had just accepted a coaching position with the Arkansas track program. After arriving in Fayetteville, Isaiah joined his dad on an early recruiting visit to see another dual-sport athlete, Ketron Jackson, Jr., who eventually signed with Arkansas. But during that visit, the then-high school sophomore also met Razorbacks offensive coordinator Kendall Briles, who struck up a conversation and asked the young Sategna to send him some highlight clips.
“That was my first time talking to an actual D-I coach,” he said. “I sent him my highlight tape, and the very next day I got pulled out of class to go talk to Coach (Sam) Pittman. He ended up offering me a full-ride scholarship. It was crazy. It came out of nowhere, because I was just thinking I was going to be a track guy. But, a month later, I got an offer from Kansas, then a month after that it was Baylor. Then the offers just started rolling in.”
Sategna had put the Arkansas offer on the back burner until earlier this fall, when Pittman unveiled a new and improved version of Razorbacks football. The fact that Arkansas went from 3-7 in 2020 to a now 8-4 record and a berth in the upcoming Outback Bowl against Penn State on New Year’s Day was a key factor in believing that the Razorbacks were his best option. He had also developed a close relationship with Arkansas receivers coach Kenny Guiton.
“Arkansas started having some success and I really liked the culture that Coach Pittman had started creating there, and I liked all the coaches,” he said. “Once the season started, I was seeing how Coach Briles was using (wide receiver) Treylon Burks, and how well KJ was performing. Then just the atmosphere that was being created at the games. I also knew that they needed me more than some other programs did, and I could probably succeed there, while being closer to my family. Why go so far away when I can just stay right here? And I figured being a hometown guy, the fans would treat me better than anywhere else.”
Sategna joins nine fellow in-state commits, including his high school teammate, linebacker Mani Powell, as well as wide receiver Quincey McAdoo (Clarendon), running back James Jointer (Little Rock Parkview), offensive linemen Andrew Chamblee (Maumelle) and E’Marion Harris (Little Rock Joe T. Robinson), defensive linemen JJ Hollingsworth (Greenland) and Nico Davillier (Maumelle), tight end Dax Courtney (Clarendon), and linebacker Kaden Henley (Shiloh Christian).
As he got older, Sategna figured he would end up staying in Austin for college or going to his parents’ alma mater, LSU, but neither school showed any early interest. Prior to his move to Arkansas, he spent his freshman year at Westlake High School in Austin, where he caught passes from his childhood friend and teammate, Cade Klubnik. Now a 5-star prospect, Klubnik is rated as the No. 3 quarterback in the country and is committed to play at Clemson next season.
“He was my quarterback my whole life, until I moved here,” Sategna said. “I grew up with him, playing youth football on up. It’s kind of funny how many kids I grew up with in Austin that are now Division I players or prospects.”
Until his freshman year at Westlake, Sategna had played on both sides of the ball, but he primarily manned the defensive backfield as a cornerback and safety. That season, the coaches began to take advantage of his speed and moved him solely to receiver on the freshman team, where he racked up more than 1,200 yards in 10 games, with Klubnik throwing him the ball.
“That’s when I started to realize that I may have a future in football, so I really started focusing on improving my skills to make it to the next level,” he said. “But even now, I know there is still a lot I have to learn about playing receiver. I think I just have some raw talent right now. That’s why I am looking forward to getting to college and learning from the college coaches.”
Sategna, ranked the No. 5 high school track and field athlete in the nation, will also compete for Arkansas’ legendary track program, as a sprinter and jumper. His biggest advantage in that sport is growing up in a track and field family. In 1995, his father, Mario, was the national champion in the decathlon his senior season at LSU, and he still holds the school record with 8,172 points. He began his collegiate coaching career a short time later.
Sategna’s mother, Dahlia Duhaney Sategna, also ran at LSU and competed in the 1992 Olympics for Jamaica on the 4×100 relay team. After winning the World Championships, Jamaica posted the fastest time in the Olympic preliminaries, but was then dealt a heartbreak in the finals when one of the teammates pulled a hamstring during the race.
His older sister, Sydne Fowler, ran track at Texas, and he said his younger sister, Isabella, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Woodland Middle School, could end up being the best athlete in the family.
“She is faster than all the seventh-grade boys and all the eighth-grade boys, too,” he said with a proud smile.
After he began competitive running at age 10, Sategna now competes in the 100-meters, 200-meters, 400- meters, long jump, high jump, all hurdle events and all the relays. He is not sure what events he will compete in for the Razorbacks. He won five individual titles and set state records in the 60-meter dash (6.86 seconds) and the 60-meter hurdles (7.88) at the Class 6A indoor state meet in 2020. His time in the 60 hurdles was the nation’s fifth-best of the year, leading him to being named Arkansas Gatorade male track athlete of the year.
His best recorded time of 6.86 seconds in the 60-meters is equivalent to approximately 10.3 in the 100 meters. By comparison, American Christian Coleman currently holds the men’s world record in the 60 meters with a time of 6.34.
Although he is looking forward to his time on the track, Sategna said his college choice was based solely on football. By NCAA rules, if a football player competes in another sport, he must remain on a football scholarship.
“I really didn’t talk to that many track coaches,” he said. “Since they knew I was going to play football, they didn’t really talk to me as much.”
Dick, a former Arkansas quarterback, said Sategna is the best athlete “and one of the most special kids” he has ever had an opportunity to coach, and he will miss having him on the field next season.
“He has elite speed and elite football skills, and he’s a great competitor that just keeps getting better,” said Dick, who quarterbacked for the Hogs from 2005-08. “I tell everybody, he is a mix between Joe Adams and Greg Childs. He really has that ability of the shiftiness that Joe had, but then after the catch he is able to get physical and make extra yards like Greg. He’s going to be an elite player for them.”
At this point, Sategna cherishes all the new recognition he is receiving from the community, especially having kids come up to meet him. He remembers, not long ago, being one of those kids.
“I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life, so this is kind of an unreal moment in my life,” he said. “Having kids come up to me now for a picture or an autograph is just surreal, and I am very grateful for that opportunity.”
But his humility and gratitude remain his hallmark, even as his notoriety grows.
“My parents have always taught me to do the right thing and treat everyone with respect,” he said. “They just make sure I keep a level head and appreciate the things God has blessed me with. Because just as quickly as he gave those things to me, he can take them back.”