ORONO — Nothing was handed to Trevor Bates.

Not a full scholarship, not a starting role, not even friendship.

“We were both ego guys and we kind of clashed a little bit,” Michael Kozlakowski said of his first summer camp alongside Bates, two freshmen spending the season as redshirts knocking heads over the chance to be the future of the UMaine football team’s defense. “We were dealing with the struggle of being scout team guys. Finally, we looked at each other like, ‘We could be the next duo.’ We became really close.”

Winning over Kozlakowski was Bates’ first Black Bears success. It was far from his last.

The little-known kid from Westbrook became a starting defensive end as a redshirt freshman, the team’s MVP as a junior, and an improbable NFL prospect in his senior year, which continues at 12:30 p.m. Saturday when Maine (2-4, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) hosts Stony Brook (2-3, 1-3).

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said the almost-daily parade of pro scouts has focused primarily on Bates this fall, intrigued by his potential as a middle linebacker. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Bates has shown the open-field speed and playmaking ability reminiscent of another former Black Bear, the late Jovan Belcher, who went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs.

No one saw this coming, least of all Bates.

For one thing, he didn’t even care for football that much growing up in Westbrook. Baseball was his passion. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school, as a jack-of-all-positions for Coach Jeff Guerette, that Bates started to see a future on the gridiron.

“He wasn’t big and awkward, he was big and smooth, and that stood out right away,” Guerette said of Bates, whom he coached in football and basketball for four years. “Whatever position we put him at, he would have been our best. So we moved him around.”

Bates was a defensive tackle who also punted at times. He would handle kickoffs for the Blue Blazes and then play free safety, making punishing tackles on stunned opposing returners who thought they were in the clear once they got past the first 10 players. By his senior year, he was playing fullback and tight end, and even threw a touchdown that Guerette still marvels at.

“It was a reverse pass play with two guys dangling all over him and he throws it 60 yards,” Guerette said.

What Bates didn’t experience much in high school was winning. Westbrook had only three victories in his junior and senior seasons, the school’s last in Class A.

It also made him difficult to scout, for the few colleges who started poking around. Cosgrove wasn’t sure what to make of Bates. He offered him $1,000 of scholarship money and the chance to try his hand at defensive end.

That was fine by Bates.

“Defense was definitely what I preferred,” he said. “It was fun catching the ball and trying to make plays, but defense is definitely where my instincts stick out. I wasn’t that big. I was just quick, really. I just kind of had a nose for the ball and I would find holes to penetrate through.”

If Bates brought an air of mystery with him to Orono, he also brought something that he credits Guerette for instilling.

“He helped me develop my work ethic. We lost a lot of close games my junior and senior year and he made sure that I gave everything I had and not to take plays off,” Bates said.

“That’s my base principle – work hard. Effort will definitely get you to where you want to go.” In his second summer at Maine, Bates impressed his coaches with that hard work, so much so that he earned a half-scholarship and was named a surprise starter at defensive end when the 2012 season began at Boston College. He finished that season with 36 tackles and a full scholarship, then was told by new defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro that he would be a better fit at middle linebacker.

Bates spent the spring learning the new position, but never got to play there. In the summer, Kozlakowski suffered a season-ending biceps injury. Freshman Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga was proving an impressive option at middle linebacker. So Bates was shifted back to defensive end, where he has remained, playing in every game for four seasons.

Bates was third-team all-conference in 2013, with 54 tackles and four sacks.

Then, for the only time at Maine, he was handed something: uniform No. 9. It is a legacy number, doled out by graduating seniors to the defensive player that most resembles them – the toughest, fastest, biggest-hearted guy on the team. Belcher wore it. Bates inherited it from Michael Cole.

Inspired, he tore up the field last fall, finishing with 60 tackles, 51/2 sacks, three interceptions, two fumbles forced and another recovered. He even led the team with seven pass breakups. Bates was a menacing presence for quarterbacks and has continued on that path this season.

Asked if he’s thought about who will be wearing No. 9 for Maine next year, Bates said:

“It’s crossed my mind. But I’ve still got a lot of plays left in that number.”

Bates and Kozlakowski are starting defensive ends and best of friends now. They have a Sunday ritual of watching game film from Saturday’s game, heading to their favorite local pizzeria for a meal and then watching that night’s NFL game together.

Bates may be playing in those games in the future. The latest NFL draft ranking from CBSSports.com has him projected as a free-agent signee in the spring.

“I’m excited about what I hear about him from the scouts,” Cosgrove said. “He’s an easy kid for me to recommend because of his character.”

Bates, an honor roll member who is majoring in kinesiology and physical education, is heavily involved in community service. He has been a mentor to local youth, a frequent speaker at schools and YMCAs.

Cosgrove sees a bright future for Bates, in or out of football.

“He’s a handsome, well-spoken young man. He carries himself with a great amount of dignity and pride,” Cosgrove said.

None of this is lost on Bates’ former coach, either.

Guerette asks Bates to speak to his current players at summer weightlifting sessions. He is bringing a busload of Westbrook middle and high schoolers up for Saturday’s game, about 80 kids in all.

“In high school, it didn’t always come super easy for him. He’s someone who could have gone in many different directions,” Guerette said.

“I just see someone who’s really genuine. Our kids love that. They love being on a college campus and seeing a college game and knowing that Trevor’s out there and he’s from Westbrook High School. They know who he is. He’s made it.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.