Isaac TeSlaa’s Biggest Challenge in Making the Jump from Division II to the SEC

Isaac TeSlaa, Arkansas football
photo credit: Instagram/isaac.teslaa

This is Part II of our two-part story on how Isaac TeSlaa went from playing at a small Division II school to not only joining an SEC program, but being projected as a starter for Arkansas football in 2023. If you missed the first part, which details his rise from Wing T quarterback to star wide receiver, click here.

As their son continued to torch opposing defenses in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference last season, Mark and Stephanie TeSlaa were bombarded with questions about his future.

Playing at Hillsdale College, a Division II school in Michigan, it was abundantly clear that Isaac TeSlaa was a cut above the competition – and now, more than ever before, he could do something about it.

Seemingly everyone wanted to know if he’d utilize the transfer portal to make the jump to Division I football, but his father always brushed off the question out of respect to Hillsdale.

Mark TeSlaa didn’t even want to entertain the thought until after the season. When that time came, he didn’t beat around the bush. He wanted to know what his son thought, so he got right to the point.

“The day after the banquet at Hillsdale, where the awards were handed out and a big dinner for everybody, I called him up on the phone and just said, ‘Okay bud, where are you at with this? Because I think you could play at a different level if you would want to, but I don’t know where your heart’s at,’” Mark TeSlaa said. “He was like, ‘Yeah dad, I’m ready. I want to try it.’”

Thus began Isaac TeSlaa’s unlikely path to Fayetteville, where he’s now projected to be a starter with Arkansas football and will be going up against the likes of Alabama and LSU instead of Kentucky Wesleyan and Lake Erie College.

The Portal Recruitment of Isaac TeSlaa

Before Isaac TeSlaa hopped in the transfer portal, though, he and his father wanted to do some digging. Not only had they heard the stories of players entering and never finding a new home, but that’s something they already went through once.

They did not want a repeat of TeSlaa’s high school recruitment, when – despite their best efforts – the only school to pull the trigger on a full-ride athletic scholarship was Hillsdale.

However, when they realized some Power Five schools were already following him on Twitter, they figured he’d generate some interest this time around. That proved to be quite the understatement.

After informing his coaches at Hillsdale of his decision, things got a little crazy.

“It started off with some Big 12 schools and then all of a sudden it changed into Big Ten and finally, toward the end, got a fair amount of the SEC schools to get involved,” Mark TeSlaa said. “It wasn’t just like ‘boom,’ all 20 schools were calling him up and making him offers, but it seemed like every time I was talking to him, he was like, ‘Yeah, I just got off the phone with so-and-so,’ and I’m like, ‘Well?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, they offered.’”

Before the three-year anniversary of his commitment to Hillsdale, Isaac TeSlaa had reeled in offers from Iowa State, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Houston, Miami (Fla.), Baylor and Wisconsin. He eventually added Arkansas, Ole Miss, Colorado, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Arizona and Purdue.

The kid who once attended camps hoping to catch the attention of just one Division I program suddenly had 14 Power Five offers from schools that had never seen him in person – a number that left Mark TeSlaa in disbelief.

Isaac TeSlaa himself couldn’t believe it either, as he even admitted to not expecting the amount of attention he got in the portal.

“The recruiting process was crazy, I’ll be honest with you,” TeSlaa said. “I wasn’t really sure if I was going to hit the portal, but once I did, I was happy that I did. It was kind of slow at first, I had some teams reach out, but eventually I blew up a little bit and I was getting a lot of offers.”

Arkansas Football Enters the Picture

With seven offers and official visits to Iowa and Iowa State already under his belt, Isaac TeSlaa tweeted about his offer from Arkansas football on Dec. 20.

After talking to head coach Sam Pittman on the phone, he asked his dad to do some research into the Razorbacks. Mark TeSlaa got busy looking into their quarterback situation, their wide receiver depth chart and the background of their coaches.

When he came back with a positive review, they decided to add Arkansas to the list of official visits. In the span of a week in early January, TeSlaa checked out Purdue, Arkansas and Colorado.

“The visit was just what we thought it would be — a great cultural fit,” Mark TeSlaa said about the trip to Fayetteville. “I think the coaches, the personalities there, the excitement for football and where they’re headed fit Isaac’s hope. Also, he felt like there was an opportunity for him at wide receiver.”

Just a couple days after returning home from Boulder, Colo., where he did a photoshoot with a Tesla, TeSlaa announced his commitment to the Razorbacks. That was on Jan. 10, exactly three weeks after getting offered.

At the time, he admitted that the SEC was a “different beast” and it sounds like playing in the best conference in college football played a role in his final choice, as his father said he doesn’t shy away from competition and went all-in with his decision to transfer.

“He wants to compete at the highest level and that’s what his goal was,” Mark TeSlaa said. “He was like, ‘If I enter the portal from Hillsdale, I’m not going to a small DI school. I’m not going to the MAC schools or anything. If I’m going to do this, I want to play at the highest competition I can and prove that I can do it.’ That’s his mentality and I love that about him.”

TeSlaa’s Role with the Razorbacks

Making the jump from Division II to the SEC hasn’t come without its challenges, though. The biggest, Isaac TeSlaa said back in April, was the playbook.

“Obviously it’s a lot bigger than where I was before,” TeSlaa said. “There’s a lot more room for creativity. I feel like the playbook, we’ve got an answer for everything. If you’ve got an answer for everything, that playbook’s going to be pretty big.”

When spring ball rolled around, TeSlaa also had to adjust to all of the press coverage he was facing. He had to learn how to beat defensive backs off the line of scrimmage, which really put his technique to the test.

Then there was the speed. That’s what stood out to him the most and was really his “welcome to the SEC” moment.

“The SEC is a whole different level, especially the defense — just the speed of everyone, even the linebackers,” TeSlaa said. “I feel like some of these linebackers are just as fast as I am. It’s crazy learning the speed and how to get off, man.”

There was certainly a learning curve early on, as TeSlaa visibly struggled in the first few practices during the portions of which were open to the media.

Luckily for him, he had Kenny Guiton coaching him up along the way. The former Ohio State quarterback is entering his third season as the Razorbacks’ wide receivers coach.

“One thing that I really like is he played quarterback back in the day, so he sees the field in a different way that receivers sometimes don’t see,” TeSlaa said. “He sees the field that way and he can teach us things about the defense that we may not even know we can learn.”

Sure enough, TeSlaa seemed to gradually settle in as the practices went on. He was thinking less and playing at full speed by the end of spring ball, which led to more success on the field.

In fact, he now appears to be a strong contender to start when the Sept. 2 opener against Western Carolina gets here. Of course, that’s why Arkansas brought him in.

With Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood now in the NFL and Ketron Jackson and Warren Thompson leaving via the transfer portal, the Razorbacks needed help at wide receiver.

TeSlaa joined a group that features only three players – Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson and Isaiah Sategna – who’ve ever caught a pass in an Arkansas uniform. The Razorbacks also added Tyrone Broden from Bowling Green and Andrew Armstrong from Texas A&M-Commerce as players who are making similar jumps in level of competition.

However, neither of them are going straight from Division II to the SEC like TeSlaa, who is already turning heads in Fayetteville.

“He’s catching a lot of ‘wow’ balls,” Sam Pittman said. “That separates receivers right there, is who can catch contested passes and who can catch the one that’s unbelievably hard to catch. He’s seemed to be able to do that.”

With reviews like that, SportsCenter anchors might need to join ESPN, SEC Network and CBS announcers in learning the correct way to pronounce his last name.

They could be saying it quite a bit in 2023.


Here is Part I of our story about Isaac TeSlaa’s rise from Division II to the SEC:


Check out some highlights of Isaac TeSlaa at Hillsdale College:

More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…

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