Sam Pittman cast a wide net to find receivers in the transfer portal for Arkansas football and it seems as though he’s once again found a gem from the smaller levels of college football.
A month after nabbing Andrew Armstrong from the FCS ranks, the Razorbacks went one notch lower and landed a commitment from Isaac TeSlaa from Hillsdale College in Michigan. He announced his decision late Tuesday night via Twitter.
Despite playing at a Division II school, TeSlaa received a lot of interest as soon as he entered the portal. He was highly coveted with offers from the likes of Arizona, Baylor, Houston, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Wisconsin.
Ultimately, it boiled down to Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Iowa State and Purdue. TeSlaa officially visited all five programs before the Razorbacks came out on top for his services.
“Just seeing all the bells and whistles they have here was awesome, but also getting a feel for their culture,” TeSlaa said after his visit. “Their coaching staff is incredible, obviously. They get you hyped up, but they also know how to talk about the program and the things that are important.”
It sounds like the facilities and resources available at Arkansas were a major factor in TeSlaa’s decision. He visited Fayetteville after trips to Iowa, Iowa State and Purdue and admitted that the SEC is a “different beast.”
TeSlaa was also complimentary of wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton, whom he described as a “really good guy,” and said the highlight of the trip — even more so than the “bells and whistles” — was getting to talk to him and the other coaches.
“I just love talking football, so whenever we get to sit down and talk about specifics, that’s what I really enjoy,” TeSlaa said. “I think he’s been here for about two years but you can tell he knows a lot and he gets his receivers right.”
The Razorbacks have now landed eight transfers this offseason, with half of them coming in the last five days. Linebacker Antonio Grier Jr. from South Florida reaffirmed his commitment to Arkansas on Saturday, sandwiched between commitments from former Baylor defensive backs Lorando Johnson on Friday and Alfahiym Walcott on Sunday.
During the early signing period, Arkansas announced the signing of offensive lineman Joshua Braun from Florida, quarterback Jacolby Criswell from North Carolina, defensive end John Morgan III from Pittsburgh and the aforementioned Armstrong from Texas A&M-Commerce.
Isaac TeSlaa Builds Impressive Resume
Playing at Unity Christian, a small private school in Hudsonville, Mich., just outside of Grand Rapids, Isaac TeSlaa was a multi-sport standout.
He guided the Crusaders to state championships in football and basketball, plus won a regional title in the long jump with a leap up 22 feet, 3 inches, breaking the previous school record by nearly a foot.
With a 4.54-second 40-yard dash and 41-inch vertical, there was no question TeSlaa had athleticism. The problem was that he was the quarterback in a Wing T offense. As a senior, he racked up 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground while throwing for only 448 yards and 10 scores.
TeSlaa knew he wasn’t a quarterback at the next level and likely needed to move to wide receiver, but he had no training or film at the position. The result was not much recruiting interest.
In a stark contrast to what was to come in a few years, the first “offer” TeSlaa shared on Twitter was from Valparaiso — an FCS program that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships in football. Hillsdale, a Division II program a couple hours away from his hometown, eventually came along and he jumped on the full-ride offer.
The pandemic led to the Chargers playing a four-game spring schedule TeSlaa’s freshman year and he began his career as a backup who contributed on special teams before injuries gave him an opportunity on offense. He caught 5 passes for 93 yards in three games.
There was an expectation for his role to expand in the fall of 2021, but TeSlaa far exceeded expectations when he worked his way into the starting lineup and caught 45 passes for 698 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing a couple of games with an injury.
That set the stage for a monster season in which he was named the GMAC Offensive Player of the Year. TeSlaa finished the year with 68 receptions, 1,325 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games. His 120.5 yards per game ranked fourth in all of Division II, while his 19.5 yards per reception ranked 22nd (and fourth among players with at least 50 catches).
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound wide receiver has two years of eligibility remaining because his first season was the pandemic-altered 2020-21 campaign that doesn’t count. He also still has a redshirt available, so he has three years to play those two seasons.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Much like last offseason, wide receiver was a major point of emphasis for Arkansas football in the transfer portal because it is losing its top four wide receivers from 2022 — a number that doesn’t even factor in the loss of top tight end Trey Knox.
The Razorbacks brought in Matt Landers and Jadon Haselwood last offseason and they produced to the tune of a top-10 season in receiving yards and receptions, respectively, but now they’re moving on. Landers is out of eligibility and Haselwood declared for the NFL Draft.
On top of those expected departures, Ketron Jackson Jr. and Warren Thompson entered the transfer portal, with the former landing at Baylor and the latter still pursuing his extra year of eligibility elsewhere.
That quartet combined for 134 receptions, 2,058 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, so there’s quite a bit of production Arkansas must replace.
Throw in the flip of prized recruit Micah Tease to Texas A&M and the Razorbacks were pretty low on numbers. They quickly identified Andrew Armstrong as a top portal target, but even after signing him, they were still at just seven scholarship wide receivers, based on Best of Arkansas Sports’ projections.
Of those guys, only Bryce Stephens, Jaedon Wilson and Isaiah Sategna have ever caught a pass in an Arkansas uniform. You could throw Quincey McAdoo into that category if you count interceptions and assume he moves back to offense, but considering his success after a midseason position change, it’s widely believed he’ll remain at cornerback.
With the rest of the wide receiver depth chart consisting of quarterback-turned-tight end-turned-receiver Landon Rogers, a freshman in Sam Mbake whose only offensive reps came in the Liberty Bowl and incoming freshman Davion Dozier, Sam Pittman said he’d like to add another couple from the transfer portal.
He landed in-state product Marlon Crockett as a walk-on transfer from Memphis, but the addition of Isaac TeSlaa puts the Razorbacks at eight projected scholarship receivers for 2023 — as well as another one projected to contribute immediately in a room that needs a some experience, even if it’s at a lower level.
Arkansas football fans are well aware of the success defensive tackle John Ridgeway had after transferring in from Illinois State, but that is an FCS school — a jump that is becoming more and more common. While it’s a little harder to find examples of players going straight from DII to the SEC, it’s not completely unprecedented. In fact, Missouri has had a couple of recent examples.
A couple of years ago, Kiki Chism joined the Tigers from Angelo State and was one of their top receivers in 2020 and 2021, catching 76 passes for 969 yards and four touchdowns during his two seasons in the SEC. Then last offseason, Cody Schrader transferred in from Truman State as a walk-on and actually led Missouri in rushing this season with 744 yards and nine touchdowns.
It also wouldn’t be surprising if Pittman and the Razorbacks add more wide receivers yet. Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton has committed to Tennessee, but Xavier Weaver from South Florida visited last week and is still available, as is former Iowa wide receiver Arland Bruce IV, who visited last month.
Check out some highlights of Isaac TeSlaa at Hillsdale College:
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