By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
FORT MYERS — Music and sports go hand in hand.
Most fans love singing along to their favorite stadium anthems.
Some professional athletes get paid millions of dollars to listen to their music through certain head phones.
But Florida Gulf Coast University infielder and Charlotte High School graduate Jake Noll doesn’t care for it.
“I don’t really listen to music very often,” Noll said. “I’m probably one of the only guys who doesn’t listen to music before the games with headphones. I just sit there and relax.”
Noll will sit in silence prior to a handful of games coming up this week, as the Eagles get ready for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. FGCU will kickoff the tourney with a game at 3 p.m. today against North Florida in Nashville, Tenn.
The A-Sun tournament could be the final time Noll dons an FGCU uniform, but the redshirt junior isn’t quite ready to think about that.
“It’s crazy. I never thought I’d be in this position,” said Noll, who is becoming a coveted pick in the upcoming Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
“Even last year, I did well my freshman and sophomore year, and I wasn’t getting calls. Now more teams are showing more interest. I try not to think about it too much because we still have to win this conference tournament, but it’s a great feeling.”
Using the word “well” to describe his freshman year is an understatement. He had a season for the ages.
A batting average of .367 in 275 at-bats, 56 runs, 18 doubles, 29 RBI atop the Eagles’ lineup, 25 stolen bases, and a single-season program best 101 hits.
With number like that, the accolades came along, too.
A-Sun first team honors, Louisville Slugger All-American third team honors, and perhaps most impressively, he became FGCU’s first Louisville Slugger national freshman player of the year.
And he did it all as a walk-on.
“Anytime you see a kid get better and better each year in his craft or trade, and something he cares about, is rewarding,” Eagles coach Dave Tollett said. “There’s a lot of factors (in his improvement). I think he wanted to play, and prove he could play at this level.”
When Noll left Charlotte in 2009 it seemed as if his baseball career was over.
Having been accepted to FGCU as an ordinary student, Noll figured he’d give one last shot at prolonging the day he had to finally hang up his cleats. So he tried out for the baseball team.
Noll played well enough to earn a spot on the team, but redshirted his freshman year.
During this time was when he made his greatest progression.
It’s not uncommon for a player to improve when taking the next step. Usually it’s mechanics: a slight change in arm angle for a pitcher, or a batter moving his hands back in his stance.
But what clicked for Noll wasn’t as common.
“When I first got here, I found out I needed contacts,” said Noll, who attributed some of his new talents to upgraded vision. “That was one of the biggest reasons. FGCU also made me work harder than I ever have before. It made me a lot better really fast.”
Now, in his redshirt junior season, Noll is a leader on the team both in numbers and attitude.
He’s played in all of the Eagles’ 54 games, and has 61 RBI, 19 doubles, 86 hits, 12 home runs and a .628 slugging percentage to go with a .372 batting average.
“I think he has great aptitude,” Tollett said. “He understands what we’re trying to teach here from an offensive side. He’s a big part of our team. He’s been counted on since he was a redshirt freshman to deliver, and he has. There’s no questions he has respect from his teammates and the coaching staff.”
The Eagles will count on Noll one more time this week at the A-Sun tournament. And while they’ll all be listening to music before each game, their leader will be sitting in silence, getting in the zone.