• Ainslie Lee

North Marion: Small School, Big Names for Florida Gators Baseball

Courtesy of Anissa Dimilta / UAA

The town of Citra is home to just over 8,000 people. And North Marion High School, which services the town, has just 1,300 students enrolled.

But the quaintness of the town and the school’s derogatory nickname, “Cow Patty High”, doesn’t stop it from breeding high-caliber athletes and sending them 45 minutes north to the University of Florida.

On the gridiron, the North Marion Colts shipped former Florida Gators wide receiver and current Seattle Seahawk, Freddie Swain, to don the Orange and Blue. That was in 2016.

Most recently, the Colts’ most coveted athletes are found on the baseball diamond.

Last season, North Marion alum Sterlin Thompson signed with the Florida Gators after previously being committed to play for the Stetson Hatters.

“I’ve always wanted to be a Gator,” Thompson said on his signing day on Feb. 27, 2020. “I really like the program there; I like Coach Sully and what he’s doing there... He has a powerhouse of a program.”

And that same rough-around-the-edges ball coach and his powerhouse of a program is slated to draw another North Marion Colt stud into Gainesville.

This season, Deric Fabian, younger brother of Gators’ centerfielder Jud Fabian, is next in line to leave behind North Marion High School en route to a career with the Florida Gators baseball program.

Thompson, who spent his first three high school seasons with Ocala’s Forest High School, transferred to the team up north for his final season.

Thompson’s stats for his senior season aren’t available online. Nonetheless, the numbers he put up during his first three seasons of high school ball speak for themselves.

Through his first three seasons, Thompson maintained a .357 batting average, which was bolstered by an outstanding junior season. As a junior at Forest, Thompson boasted an average of .542. Through 48 at-bats, Thompson recorded 26 hits -- 20 of which drove in runs for the Forest Wildcats. Thompson also lifted three balls out of the yard his junior year, before eventually transferring to play under Dale Hall at North Marion.

Courtesy of Anissa Dimilta / UAA

Now, just one year removed from his high school career, Thompson is one of the most reliable batters on Florida’s roster.

With a .313 batting average, Thompson is second to only Jacob Young, a sophomore who edges Thompson with a .317 average.

Hall only coached Thompson through seven games before COVID-19 nixed the high school sports season. But a shortened season didn’t prevent North Marion head coach Dale Hall from getting a good look at who Thompson was as a baseball player.

According to Hall, Thomspon’s success at the plate can be attributed to his mindset.

“I think Sterlin takes a very simplistic approach to the game,” Hall said. “I don’t think he lets a lot get to him. He was the same way in high school.”

After going 4-for-9 from the plate during the Gators’ disappointing showing against Arkansas to close out the regular season, Thompson could have folded. In the remaining at-bats that the freshman didn’t record a hit in Fayetteville, he struck out.

However, instead of that taking the wind out of his sails heading into the SEC tournament, Thompson brushed himself off and kept moving.

In the four tournament games the Gators played in from Hoover, Alabama, Thomspon issued six hits and struck out just two times. His three-hit, one-RBI performance on May 27 helped lift the Gators to a convincing 7-2 over Alabama behind an offensive explosion featuring 14 hits off Florida bats.

“Sterlin has a passion for the game,” Hall said. “I can guarantee you he’s tearing up the nets at the University of Florida, just like he did at North Marion High School. He won’t be outworked. He’ll do everything he can to stay in the lineup. He’ll play anywhere you could possibly ask him to play.

“I think the main thing with Sterlin and what has made him successful this year is that he’s just playing the game of baseball. He’s not going to let the hype of, at the beginning of the season, being the number one team in the country... he’s not going to let that affect him at all. He’s just going to go about his business.”

And fortunately for Florida baseball fans, Hall included, the next North Marion Colt to suit up in the Orange and Blue shares a lot of the same qualities.

“He and Deric are very much the same in that aspect that they don’t let a lot of things get to them. And I think that’s very important as a baseball player is that you don’t let your failures overcome you because it’s going to happen a lot. Those two have done a great job at separating at-bats or separating a base-running mistake, or an error in the field... they just do a really good job at forgetting. And that’s something that you have to do as a baseball player.”

Fabian, who like Thompson, transferred to North Marion, helped lead the Colts to the Class 4A state championship game this season.

The flashy shortstop carried a .462 batting average through his senior season behind 43 hits and 53 RBIs. The senior also lifted 13 home runs out of the park in the 2020-21 season.

But according to Hall, Fabian’s numbers shouldn’t be what Gators fans are most excited about.

“Just an amazing human being,” Hall said. “I told him this after the state championship game – you could take all your baseball abilities completely away from you and -- I just cannot put into words how I feel about him.

“He’s just such a positive person. You never see him too high; you never see him too low. He’s very consistent.”

Citra isn’t home to much or many.

But it is home to North Marion High School, which is home to the baseball program that has yielded great results for the Florida Gators.

“It’s a great feeling to have two guys up there, simply because I’m a Gator fan,” Hall laughs. “I’m really excited about being able to watch Sterlin this year and being able to watch both of them up there next year.

“But all the credit goes to them because both of those players have worked extremely hard to get to where they’re at.”

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