To say that Trent Bauer's path to becoming the starting quarterback for Lexington (Ky.) Paul Laurence Dunbar High has been unusual is an understatement. While some other starting passers began the season on the bench or even on their school's junior varsity team, Bauer was wearing a different "uniform" entirely.
He was the school's mascot. Literally.
"You couldn't write a movie script better than that," Dunbar head football coach Derrick Thomas told the Lexington Herald Leader. "We were down the whole game, made a comeback, then won in the last seconds with a quarterback who was the mascot at the beginning of the year."
As reported by the Herald Leader, Bauer's unlikely rise from adjunct cheerleader to star quarterback has rapidly taken on the air of urban legend. Heading into his junior year, Bauer planned to serve as the school's official mascot, donning a huge bulldog costume and entertaining young fans at games. Then he decided that he wanted to be a part of the school's football program after watching the team's season opener. Bauer hadn't played football since he was 10, so he assumed that he would just be an also-ran member of the squad, which featured a number of his closest friends.
The Dunbar coaching staff was on that page, too, as they had Bauer sit out the first 10 games of his practice period and serve as the team's ball boy to fall in line with state protocol. Then, as soon as Bauer could wear pads, they had him compete in a junior varsity game.
That's when everything changed. Despite his lack of experience, Bauer proved to be a shockingly accurate quarterback, leading the Dunbar JV squad in games against Madison (Ky.) Central High and Lafayette (Ky.) High. He was so impressive passing the ball that the Dunbar coaching staff decided to use him late in the team's varsity contest against Bryan Station (Ky.) High, when the 5-foot-9 passer provided the only positive offensive spark for the program by tossing two late touchdown passes to receivers Taylor Smith and Emory Thompson. To that point, Thompson had served as the team's starting quarterback, though he considered himself a receiver by trade.
Bauer's cameo was strong enough to warrant a varsity starting spot behind center for the 145-pound passer, and Bauer immediately delivered with gusto. The junior passed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in Dunbar's 22-19 victory against Lexington (Ky.) Henry Clay, the last a touchdown to Thompson with only eight seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs their first win against Clay in the schools' past 11 meetings.
"I felt really good for my teammates," Bauer said. "They're the ones who'd been out here practicing day in and day out, and hadn't won a city game in five years. It was for them."
For Bauer, the brief foray into the famous world of prep football stardom is only an aside from his duties as the school's mascot. He insists that he'll be back in the suit come basketball season, cheering on the Bulldogs with acrobatic and classically overstated gesticulations.
In the meantime, it's the school's cheerleading squad that suddenly needs to find a new star now that the football team poached its own furry leader.