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Editor’s note: Over the coming days, we will honor the best and brightest individual performers from the 2021 Arkansas high school football season, culminating with the unveiling of the inaugural SBLive all-state team on Monday, January 24.

By Steve Andrews | Photo by Sadie Rucker

Three years ago, Isaiah Sategna couldn’t have imagined that his final high school game would be played in front of a national television audience, on the sport’s biggest stage. But there he was two weeks ago in San Antonio, playing in the prestigious All-America Bowl as one of the nation’s top gridiron talents.

“It was a great honor,” Sategna said. “To be recognized as one of the best high school players in the country and to be able to spend a week going against some of the best talent in the country, it was amazing.”

With so much talent on both rosters, and last-minute shuffling due to a COVID outbreak earlier that week, Sategna had minimal opportunities to showcase his talent – and blazing speed – in the all-star showcase.

But the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Fayetteville receiver has been a very familiar name on the prep scene in Arkansas this past season, leading the state with 100 catches and 1,908 receiving yards, with 17 touchdowns. His total receiving yards ranked No. 2 nationally, although he played three fewer games than the national leader, Coy Eakin of Stephenville, Texas. Sategna averaged more than 146 yards per game this season, compared with Eakin’s 133.

It’s even more impressive when you consider that he often sat out the second half of games, with Fayetteville holding a large lead. For his effort and accomplishments, Sategna has been named SBLive’s Arkansas Offensive Player of the Year.

“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,” said Fayetteville coach and former Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick. “He’s a kid who makes everyone around him a better player and a better person, and his teammates just love him.”

Sategna had three games with more than 200 yards receiving and scored at least one touchdown in all 13 of the Bulldogs’ games. He helped lead Fayetteville to the 7A state championship game, where he caught nine passes for 185 yards, including a spectacular 50-yard touchdown grab. The Bulldogs came up short, 42-38, to Bryant in the championship game Dec. 4. Two weeks prior, he had 17 catches for 261 yards and a touchdown in a 34-27 quarterfinal win over Cabot.

“I’m proud of the season we had, but at the same time, I know we should have won state,” Sategna said. “At the beginning of the year, I knew that we had a state championship team. We were telling everybody, 'This is the year, we’re going to win state,' but nobody believed us. So, the fact that we went there, and we had the chance to win, proved that we belonged. But it’s always going to be a hard feeling that we didn’t win it all.”

Fayetteville rebounded from a disappointing 4-6 record in 2020, as the Bulldogs proved to have one of the top offenses in Arkansas in 2021. Senior quarterback Bladen Fike was second in the state with 4,098 passing yards and 44 touchdown tosses. Fellow senior receiver Jalen Blackburn finished with 981 yards and 11 TDs through the air.

“We just had a great all-around team, with a great O-line, some really good running backs and an incredible defense,” Sategna said. “You can't just have like three good players and hope to be successful. You’ve got to have 11 good players on the field, because it’s a working system that has different responsibilities. The offensive line has to block for you, so they could give Bladen enough time to throw it, and he usually gave us a chance to make a play on the ball.”

Sategna and Fike shot out of the gate in sync this season, connecting 11 times for 219 yards and a score in the season opener, a 41-24 victory over Conway. They followed that with nine hook-ups for 236 yards and another TD in a heartbreaking 48-42 loss to Oklahoma power Owasso.

“We came out clicking on all cylinders,” Sategna said. “Everything was starting to come together on offense and defense. We just came up a little short against Owasso, but we knew we were only going to get better from there.”

But that early success also put a target on Sategna, who began facing double- and triple-team coverages.

“It was frustrating when they would put a group of defenders on me, but at the same time, that also opened up other players who could make the play,” he said. “We had enough good receivers that we were still going to make plays. If they tried to shut me down, we'd have players like Jalen Blackburn, Hayes Robinson or Dylan Kittell who would step up.”

Sategna caught three touchdown passes twice this season – a nine-catch, 140-yard effort in a win over Rogers, then a nine-catch, 175-yard performance against rival Springdale.

“I knew I just had to get the ball out there to Isaiah, and he would do the rest,” Fike said. “With his speed and his ability to go up and get the ball, he’s hard for the defense to cover on every play.”

Speed is one of Sategna’s best assets, as he will soon begin preparing to add to his growing list of individual state championships for the Fayetteville track and field team. 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 be named Arkansas Gatorade male track athlete of the year. He is currently ranked as the No. 5 track and field athlete in the country.

If not for the upcoming track season, Sategna would have enrolled at Arkansas a semester early to begin preparing for his collegiate career with the hometown Razorbacks. But he still anticipates he will hit the ground running as he takes his talent to the next level, participating for both the Razorbacks football and track and field programs.

The 4-star prospect, rated as the No. 1 overall football player in the state and the No. 22 wide receiver nationally by Rivals, chose the Razorbacks after flirting with verbal commitments to Texas A&M and Oregon. Arkansas was the first of more than 25 Division I programs to offer Sategna. He officially signed his letter of intent on Dec. 15.

“I know I am not as polished as some of these receivers, but I’m still learning all the aspects of my craft,” he said. “Right now, I rely heavily on my speed, but I have been working hard to improve all the details of my game. I can’t wait to get to Arkansas, where those coaches can help take my entire game to the next level.”

Sategna’s short list of career goals is simple: Make it to the NFL and compete in the Olympic games. His mother ran in the 1992 Tokyo Olympics for Jamaica and his father won a national championship in the decathlon for LSU in 1995. So, although his expectations are lofty, he has the bloodlines and raw talent to accomplish both. But more important, he also has the heart and desire.

“I always work hard to try to be the best at whatever I do,” Sategna said. “This is no different. I’ve set my goals. Now I have to go out and do whatever it takes to accomplish them.”