GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At first, when their coach suggested the Florida softball sister act of Kasey and Sami Fagan would make for good television, reality TV came to mind.
Tim Walton was quick to correct.
“No, more like a sit-com,” Walton said. “Or better yet ... MMA.”
The fighting Fagans never come to blows, but they’re constantly dogging one another about something. Walton sees it as a (mostly) healthy form of release because, eventually, the fierce competitive nature the siblings have share gets to be unleashed on the game they love.
And unfortunate Gator opponents.
“She pushes me and I push her,” Kasey said. “That’s just the way it’s always been with us.”
Kasey calls Sami “stupid.” Sami calls Kasey an “idiot.” As they tease and taunt their teammates laugh. Eventually, so do the sisters, who’ve been far more inseparable than insufferable in their side-by-side years of playing sports.
Now together for the Gators, the Fagans have made a double-dose impact for third-ranked Florida (38-5), fresh off a three-game weekend sweep of Southeastern Conference foe Auburn. Both are starters -- Kasey, the sophomore, in the outfield; Sami, the freshman, at third base -- and both have made their mark on a program after coming from Dunnellon (Fla.) High, where together they won back-to-back state championships.
Their success and firebrand ways on the diamonds of Marion County easily made the transition to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
So did their feuding sibling ways.
Early in the season, Walton called the two into a meeting and asked the two to try and dial the back-and-forth back a little bit, but still maintain their personalities.
“As a coach, you have to understand that brothers and sisters are going to have a different set of motivational tools with each other,” Walton said. “It might be a handshake, it might be a high-five, but whatever it is they need to know that they can do that, have that, within the team. So I give them some leeway.”
Sometimes in the Fagans’ case, that means getting on each other’s case.
“That’s what makes them tick,” Walton said. “And if you’re going to have the work ethic those two have, I need to let them have their own high-five.”
The source of that work ethic traces to their father, Kevin Fagan, who coached his daughters at Dunnellon, but nearly three decades before that won a national championship as a defensive tackle at the University of Miami and later back-to-back Super Bowls as a powerful run-stuffer with the San Francisco 49ers.
“When he had girls and they couldn’t play football, he pretty much picked a sport we could play,” Sami said of her dad. “Then he tried to make us the best at it.”
Kevin Fagan had a good business model as a base from which to start. His own.
Fagan was notorious for his workouts at UM, where he bench-pressed a school-record 560 pounds.
“I’ve told them some stories,” said Kevin Fagan, now 48. “And I have lots and lots of stories.”
Like the time his Miami position coach challenged Fagan by saying he would never be a starter for the Hurricanes. It was at that very instant, he has often recalled for his six children, that Kevin Fagan knew he would be a starter.
With the 49ers, as part of a rare NFL dynasty, he shared a locker room with some of the biggest names in the game; some of the biggest in league history.
“Jerry Rice went to Mississippi Valley State. He didn’t have world-class speed, but he ran precision routs and kept himself in better shape than anybody,” Kevin Fagan said. “[Defensive tackle] Pierce Holt was legally blind in one eye. [Defensive end] Charles Haley was a fourth-round pick from James Madison who no one ever heard of. ... Joe Montana struggled at Notre Dame with a coach before he got his chance.”
“The ones that work hardest are the ones that make it,” he said.
The Fagan girls bought in early, whether it was soccer or tennis or track -- their mother Nancy, was a middle-distance runner at UM -- or volleyball or their eventual sport of choice.
“His mentality was always, ‘Nobody is ever going to work harder than me.’ That’s what he always told us,” Sami said. “When I started working harder, that’s when I started to get good. That’s been my thing. If I ever go through a slump, I go back to training and working harder than everybody else.”
Both her sister and coach will vouch for that.
“Nobody works like Sami works,” Kasey said.
Walton pointed to the new UF softball clubhouse that opened last the fall.
“I used to joke that that would be Sami’s apartment,” Walton said. “She’s always here.”
Always in the game. And always making an impact, too.
Heading into Friday’s home doubleheader against Florida International, Sami has started all 43 games, mostly as leadoff hitter. She ranks third on the team with a .360 average, third in doubles (six) and second on the squad in both multi-hit games (17) and stolen bases (10). Twice this season, Sami has been tabbed as the SEC’s Freshman of the Week, including last week after knocking her first career homer in a big win over Florida State.
Kasey, who as a senior at Dunnellon was named the 2010 Gatorade National Player of the Year, has started all but five games this season at four different positions, including 33 in the outfield, and is hitting .286.
In games, they often turn to each other feedback.
“If I see her doing something wrong, I tell her,” Sami said.
Theirs has evolved more into a sibling working relationship, rather than a rivalry.
“They’ve gone at it since they were about 12 -- but in a good way,” Kevin Fagan said. “They pushed each other and I think they really enjoyed competing with each other; maybe a little bit against each other. It’s never been bitter. It’s helped them grow.”
Helped the the Gators grow, also, and remain the annual national championship contender that Walton has built.
The entertainment is extra.
“We’re always fighting,” Kasey said, with a laugh. “If we’re getting along, it’s because we’re obligated to.”