Bryan Morse said he can finally breathe a sigh of relief. After struggling with his commitment to college -- and to baseball -- since his graduation from Leonardtown High School in 1995, his dream has come true.

Morse, a left-handed pitcher from Mount Olive College in North Carolina, was drafted by the Florida Marlins last week in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. He is currently in Florida for a mini-camp, and along with 24 other players will head tomorrow to New York, where he will join the single A affiliate Utica Blue Sox.

"I'm still not sure it has all really sunk in yet," said Morse, who says he plans to add some weight to his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame. "I thought after last season that I would be drafted, I just didn't know when or to what team. But there were a lot of scouts who had been looking at me. That's basically why I went back [to college]. Being left-handed, I knew I had an outside chance of being picked up by somebody."

But many people -- including, at one time, Morse himself -- thought this would never happen. After all, he quit both school and baseball midway through the 1995-96 academic year at Charles County Community College, then sat out all of 1996-97, working and playing with St. Mary's County's American Legion team during the summer.

"That all seems like such a long time ago," Morse said. "I don't know what was going on with me then, I just knew that I didn't want to go to school at that time. So I took some time off, kept playing in the summer leagues, and then decided to give school -- and my baseball career -- another shot."

He decided to go back to CCCC in the fall of 1997, and after posting a 6-2 record that season, he transferred to Division II Mount Olive, where he went 5-2 last season for the 16th-ranked Trojans (48-9) with a 3.09 earned run average.

Morse, who throws consistently between 87 and 90 mph, suffered through tendinitis in his left elbow early in the season, limiting his time on the mound. Still, scouts saw his potential.

"He really showed me he has the ability to pitch, and that's sometimes hard to find," said John Castleberry, regional scouting supervisor for the Marlins in charge of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. "He's got good control of his curve and his change-up, and is able to work the ball around good. I saw a lot of qualities in him that I liked. And I'm looking for a lot more in the future."

Morse grabbed a $10,000 signing bonus for committing to a three-year deal with the Marlins and is guaranteed a two-year scholarship to the university of his choosing if he elects to go back to school in the future. Morse, who is studying sports management, said he is about 2 1/2 years shy of earning his undergraduate degree.

In addition to the signing bonus, he will receive the $850 monthly salary allotted to all first-year players. The monthly salary for minor league players increases to $975 the second year and can go as high as $2,500 the third year, depending on how far up the minor league chain a player advances.

After the 82-game season in Utica, which opens June 20 and will run through August, Morse and his teammates will be evaluated by the club and then assigned next spring to a single A, double A or triple A affiliate.