Paul Laurence Dunbar junior Trent Bauer has gone through a magical metamorphosis this football season, changing from Bulldogs' mascot into hero quarterback.
Even Bauer is taken aback by the transformation.
"It's amazing," he said. "I didn't think this would ever happen in my lifetime."
When Dunbar opened the season against Eastern, Bauer suited up as the Bulldogs' mascot, a costume he first donned last winter for basketball games.
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When Dunbar played Henry Clay last Thursday, Bauer suited up as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback — wearing jersey No. 12 — and threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to rally his team to a 22-19 upset victory.
The game-winner came on a 50-yard pass from Bauer to Emory Thompson with eight seconds left, and ended a five-year, 20-game losing skid in the city, and an 11-game losing streak to Henry Clay.
"You couldn't write a movie script better than that," Bulldogs Coach Derrick Thomas said. "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."
Bauer, who hadn't played organized football since he was 10 years old, had an itch to get back into the sport, so he went to see Thomas after the season opener.
"I'm close to the other juniors on the team, and I thought maybe I could help out in some way," Bauer said.
He wasn't sure if Thomas would want him, considering the other players had gone through the rigors of pre-season practice. But Thomas welcomed him, thinking he might be able to use Bauer on the junior varsity.
Under high school rules, Bauer couldn't practice in pads for 10 days, so he was the team's ball boy the next couple games.
The coaches got their first glimpse of what Bauer could do in JV games against Madison Central and Lafayette.
The 5-foot-9, 145-pound Bauer got his first varsity action against Bryan Station in the closing minutes and threw TDs to Taylor Smith and Thompson in a 42-17 loss.
That was enough to persuade Thomas to give Bauer the start against Henry Clay.
Thompson, who is naturally suited to play wide receiver, had played quarterback out of necessity. He was happy to turn the reins over to Bauer and catch passes again.
"Emory's helped me a lot," Bauer said. "The whole team has been really cool about the whole thing."
Dunbar offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jim Franklin said Bauer's live arm is an asset because the Bulldogs have talented receivers, including Thompson, Smith, Brandyn Duncan and J'Maurion Dunn.
When Bauer struggled through the first three quarters against Henry Clay, Franklin said he told his newbie QB, "Just keeping putting it out there, the guys will make a play."
With the final seconds ticking away, Bauer dropped back, saw Thompson get a step on his defender, and fired the pass that brought joy to a long-suffering program.
"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."
Even though he's given up his mascot duty for now, Bauer said he'll be back in the Bulldog costume for basketball season.
In the meantime, Thomas said Dunbar faces another challenge: "We've got to find a backup mascot," he said with a laugh.