Oxford Hills senior Colton Carson, center, signs his National Letter of Intent to play baseball at the University of Maine at the In the Zone Sports Center in Paris. His father, Patrick Carson, seated on the left, and mother, Kimberly, on the right, join him at a ceremony for friends, teammates and family Friday evening. Standing in the second row are his grandmother, Jill Walker, and siblings, Jake, Brooke and Sierra. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
PARIS — It’s been well over a year since Colton Carson learned of the University of Maine’s interest in him as a baseball prospect, yet the Oxford Hills senior admits he’s still a bit flabbergasted.
“It’s still sinking in slowly,” he said.
Carson verbally committed to Maine not long after it started recruiting him, and on Wednesday, NCAA National Letter of Intent Signing Day, he made it official with his signature.
On a Friday night more suited for snowballs than baseballs, Carson gathered with family, friends, teammates and coaches at In the Zone to hold a public signing ceremony and celebrate the occasion.
“It’s a great feeling to know that it’s here and I’m going,” Carson said.
Carson, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound right-handed pitcher, set baseball aside for the fall while playing quarterback for the football team. The Class A North Player of the Year, he led the Vikings first regional title game since 2000 last Friday, a game the Vikings lost in overtime, 21-14.
Two weeks prior to that game, with the Vikings enjoying a first-round bye in the playoffs, he made his official visit to the University of Maine. He had been to the Orono campus numerous times before, he said, “but on the visit I really got to meet all of the coaches and the players, check out the facilities and see what a practice is like. I got to stay with a few players, so it was a great experience.”
Maine head coach Nick Derba’s presence was key to Carson’s interest in becoming a Black Bear.
“Without a doubt, Coach Derba” said Patrick Carson, Colton’s father, when asked what attracted his son to Maine. “He’s young. He played all the way up through Triple A in the (St. Louis) Cardinals system, so he’s got this knowledge base that is really good. He bonds with his players. When Derba (previously an assistant at Maine) took over two years ago, not a single player left after (previous head coach) Steve Trimper left. There’s no doubt he’s excited about going to Orono.”
“Coach Derba has been awesome,” said Oxford Hills baseball coach Shane Slicer, who played at Maine under John Winkin in the early 1990s. “He texts him. He’s been to many, many games. He shows up at Legion tournaments, travels all the way to Oxford Hills for games. It’s not just a, ‘I’m going to sign with you and never see you again.’ That’s a big thing for Colton. He feels comfortable with him.”
Derba adds Carson to a long list of home-grown pitchers to play for Maine, which includes Lewiston’s Eddie Emerson, now a senior.
“Colton features a high-80s (mph) fastball with good command of all three pitches. He competes and has a lot of room to grow into his large frame,” Derba said in a school press release. “Colton is another great example of strong talent coming from Maine. He has a lot of upside and we are looking forward to his maturation as a player.”
An all-KVAC basketball player in addition to being a baseball and football standout, Carson has already come a long way from the gangly sophomore Derba saw when he first took notice.
Last spring and summer, he was the unflappable ace of Slicer’s Class A North runner-up high school team and state runner-up American Legion team.
“We saw it on the football field this year, too. That maturity is outstanding,” Slicer said. “Last year, he had a great (baseball) season. When he has his ‘A’ game, and he had many of them throughout the spring and summer, he’s one of the best. He competes, too. The biggest thing about Colton is he doesn’t give in. He’s got the perfect mind for a pitcher.”
Patrick Carson credited not only Slicer but football coach Mark Soehren, basketball coach Scott Graffam, as well as Joe Oufiero, an assistant coach in all three sports, for their role Colton’s development and helping pave the way to Orono.
“All three sports have been fantastic,” he said. “And really, Coach Oufiero being an assistant coach in all three sports has grounded him and provided that support. Oxford Hills has been really, really good to him.”
Carson’s next assignment for Maine will be to go to Orono next summer and get on the NCAA Division I Black Bears’ nutrition and weightlifting program.
“I just want to get better and do whatever I can do to help the team up there,” he said. “Whatever Coach Derba asks me to do, I will gladly do it.”
Slicer is confident that, with a little fine-tuning to his command this spring and summer, his ace will be able to contribute to the Black Bears sooner rather than later.
“The work ethic is already there,” Slicer said. “To go up there and compete, he has to be able to command all of his pitches. I don’t think it’s anything else. He knows how to compete. He knows how to throw a baseball. He just needs to be able to throw it where he wants to at any time, and be able to use his slider on 3-2 counts.”
“He’s not up to 90 mph yet. He will be,” Slicer said. “But until then, he has to learn how to pitch, really, really pitch. The hitters get a little better once you get to DI.”