By KEITH NIEBUHR
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001
This spring, a collective gasp could be heard throughout Citrus County when new district alignments were announced. Call it the North Marion effect.
The Colts, along with Dunnellon, were grouped with Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto to form the new Class 3A, District 3. Central, Hernando and Springstead were shipped into other districts, and in the case of Central and Springstead, another classification.
"North Marion is going to be tough," Citrus coach Larry Bishop said.
That's an understatement.
The Colts went 8-3 last season in what was one of the state's top districts, regardless of classification. Among their regular-season victims was Palatka, a state semifinalist. North Marion beat the Panthers, ranked No. 2 when the teams played, 31-0.
"They've got some pretty good horses up there," Bishop said. "Year in and year out they seem to reload."
This season, North Marion will rebuild.
The Colts graduated 14 starters and will have several newcomers playing important roles. But second-year coach Craig Damon is quick to point out that most of North Marion's first-year players were members of last year's junior varsity team, which was unbeaten and unchallenged.
"We've got some pretty good athletic juniors coming up," Damon said. "But they've still got to prove themselves on the varsity level. We lost some really good players from last year."
Among the departed stars are safety Jamie White and cornerback Levi West. Both ended up at Butler County Community College in Kansas.
"Talent-wise, we don't have the players we had last year, but I think this group probably has a little bit better work ethic," Damon said. "There are no marquee-name players, and they know they're going to have to work to have any success. This year could be as good as last year."
North Marion's top returning player is tailback Jonathan Douglas, who rushed for 1,150 yards in 2000. Also back is 6-foot-4, 170-pound wide receiver Toris Rutledge, who runs the 40-yard dash in about 4.5 seconds and is a big-play threat. Defensively, the leader is junior linebacker Tyler Hogan, the team's top tackler and a Class 3A third-team all-state pick.
Even though North Marion brings a lot to the table, Damon said Crystal River is still the team to beat in the 3A-3 race.
"They've been running the same offense and the same defense forever and they run it real well," Damon said. "And, the team is coached real well."