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“I remember telling my wife that as a freshman Trey’s gonna be a special player”

From Marshall, Minnesota, to the Bay Area, Trey Lance has remained the same person. Celia Palermo spoke with Lance’s high school coach to give us more insight into Lance’s background.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you call him Trey Area or just Trey, Trey Lance has taken Santa Clara and the 49ers by storm. But before the shiny lights and big-time exposure of the NFL and the NFL Draft, Trey Lance was — and is — just a humble, small-town kid from Marshall, Minnesota. Population: 13,651.

Coaches knew he was a different kind of player from the beginning, but his on-field success never changed who he was off the field. As Trey’s high school head coach Terry Bahlmann of Marshall High School told me recently on Zoom, Trey’s work ethic, attitude, and leadership skills have carried with him from high school to North Dakota State, and now, professional football. He’s the pride of Marshall for a reason — and that’s where his story begins.

Celia Palermo: So first off, I want to know how long have you been the head coach at Marshall?

Terry Bahlmann: This is my 18th year coming up.

CP: So what brings you back every year? What is it about Marshall that is so special?

TB: I think Marshall is a great place to raise a family and have kids. We have that small-town atmosphere of about 14,000 people, but we’ve got the Swanson Ice Cream home in town. We have a Division II college, Southwest Minnesota State. So we have all the perks of city life, a lot of restaurants, businesses, the college and so on, but we still get that small school feel a little bit.

CP: Describe to me in terms of high school football with the community: How important and how big of a deal is coming out on Friday nights to the area to see these kids play?

TB: Oh, it’s a big deal in our town. Somebody asked a lot about, you know, during the Trey interviews before [the NFL Draft], what do kids do? I said they play sports. I mean, in a town of 14,000 people you play sports. For us on Friday night games for playoffs and stuff, we’ve had 5,000 people at our game.

We have about 800 kids in high school. We have 115 for football this year, and 20 girls want to be managers. So we get great, great input. I think our record the last 11 years has been 79-8, so we’ve had a lot of success. So, people turn out to support you know. We’ve got one school in town. So it’s all about Marshall High School.

CP: How great of an environment do you think that is to grow up in and to be able to go to a high school like that, where sports and going to games are just really important?

TB: So I think the atmosphere we set up for kids and the experience they have is, is first class. We play at the college field. So we got two turf fields we practice on, and people come out to support, and it’s just a lot of fun.

CP: When did you first meet Trey and his family?

TB: I’ve known Trey for a long time. My son Brad was actually three years older than Trey. So Trey lived a block away. So when they were little kids, they used to play baseball in the backyard. We had the yard with a home plate in the backyard. So they would come over and play baseball until they got big enough… So I‘ve known Trey for a long time. I first started coaching him...I run all the youth camps in the summer, so I really remember him at football camp, probably as a third grader.

CP: Wow. I love that. At what point did you realize there was kind of something different about him, something special about his athletic ability?

TB: He was a competitor all the way. If you’ve ever read stories or met his dad. Carlton was a DII All-American across the street here and then was the defensive coordinator there. He actually had a tryout at camp with the 49ers.

Intensity comes from that, and we knew he was pretty skilled. As a young kid growing up, I remember telling my wife that as a freshman Trey’s gonna be a special player. We didn’t know if he was a quarterback for sure yet at that time, but he just had that vibe about him. Obviously, he was a great athlete, and he liked to spend a lot of time at it. When you put those two traits together, you’re going to come up with something special.

CP: If you knew in his freshman year that he was going to be special, at what point did he really transition into varsity and start getting those varsity reps?

TB: Oh, he was still sharing quarterback as a freshman and a sophomore. He was a shared quarterback on JV. And then our Week 8 game, our varsity game, our senior quarterback dislocated an elbow, and we went with Trey. It was our one loss of the year, actually. We were a couple touchdowns behind, but Trey brought us back as a comeback. He threw an interception right at the end. But then Trey took over for the playoffs, and he took us to the state tournament. And from that year on, the next three state tournaments. I think the only loss we had when Trey was quarterback was in the playoffs.

CP: How impressed were you that he was really able to step into that role in a high-pressure situation and really, you know, come out there with confidence?

TB: I don’t know if we thought about it too much at the time. We knew Trey, and we knew his demeanor. I always just tell his mom, “He seems so calm and confident.” She goes, “Oh, he’s so nervous.” I said, “Well, he didn’t portray that.” He comes out and carries himself well. I think he’s the same guy from reading things and hearing things from the 49ers coaches, that he comes in confident. He’s not a loud, boisterous guy. He just comes in, and he’s confident, and people are attracted to that. He works hard and does things right all the time.

CP: As he went off to college, what was your reaction as he started developing some traction, getting more eyes, and really developing into a higher-level talent?

TB: Well, we knew as a junior in high school he was. I thought he was a big-time quarterback. I thought he’d be playing in the Big Ten somewhere. For whatever reason, I don’t know if our size school scares people away a little bit as a quarterback. But he didn’t get the recruiting we thought he would. He went to the big camps and Nike camps, and Under Armour. Some of the big-name guys were getting more reps than he was. But he went to one of the Big Ten schools, and Trey was also a great safety and punt returner, and they labeled him an athlete. So they offered him a scholarship as an athlete, which they talked to me about, and he said he wasn’t interested.

Trey’s a guy that wants the ball in his hands, and when you get him, you’re gonna want the ball in his hands. He’s a quarterback, even though he’s a great defensive player and kick returner. He’s a quarterback for sure.

So we knew junior year in high school. I was very comfortable with the NDSU coaches... so I knew he was in great hands there.

CP: Maybe being passed over by those Power Five schools, by the Big Ten, do you think that makes his story even a little bit more special to be able to take the cards that he was dealt and turn it into something special?

TB: Oh, all those things there motivate Trey. He’s just a driven guy. I saw the 49ers put out there that he watched more film on the iPad than anybody else in camp. And that’s just Trey. As I said, he was always the first one here and the last one to leave. So he’s kept those work habits. And that’s just who he is.

CP: When it came to the NFL Draft when he went so early….obviously, there were, you know, predictions and mock drafts that had him going early...but when it really did happen, what was your reaction?

TB: Oh, we had Trey Day here in town. We had a bunch of things in school, everybody wore jerseys, and we did Trey trivia during the day. And then the town had Trey Day that evening. So a bunch of local bars and restaurants had specials going on.

We had three TV camera stations following us live as coaches all night. I thought he was going to the 49ers just from the things I’ve been hearing. But when it happens, it was just surreal that, you know, a kid from Marshall High School going third. Trey was 20 at the time of the draft, so it was three years ago that he’d been in high school for us. It was fun. We had a youth camp the other day for K-6th. Ten years ago, Trey was there as a sixth-grader. So it’s been a lot of fun—just a surreal feeling.

CP: I saw the picture from the youth camp on Twitter with all those kids wearing Trey jerseys. Do you think that speaks to just how special he is to the community and just the kind of person that he is?

TB: I think he’s a great role model for us. We’ve got ten guys that played Division I football the last eight years from a town of 800 kids. We’re gonna have a couple more probably go in the NFL coming up. So it just breeds more, more success our guys have at the next level. Of course, Trey in the NFL makes young kids want to be that…

CP: I really love that. He’s drawn so many eyes in the preseason. Of course, there’s no word on if he’ll start Week 1 of the regular season yet, but just how excited are you to see him step into this new role to be able to take this next step in his career and hopefully take off running?

TB: Oh, it’s just fun. It’s rewarding, refreshing, all the things we hear the media says and coaches about Trey that we’ve known forever. A lot of our kids come out with those kinds of work habits and kind of attitude. You know, team first, put in the work in. So it’s just fun to have everybody else see what Marshall High School kids are about and what you’ve seen from the beginning. Yeah, we’ve seen that from the beginning. We’ve had a lot of players with those kinds of attitudes and success, and Trey’s just taken it to a new level and given a lot of attention to our program.

CP: Off of the field, how would you describe him as a person? What kind of guy is he?

TB: Oh, he’s quite a leader. I remember all the scouts calling right away, and they weren’t asking about his talent level. They’re asking what kind of person he was. Had he been in any trouble? I said no. He had no detentions, no tardies. Nothing like that. He is a leader. He was a leader of our Fellowship of Christian Athletes, not only in our school, but he was a regional leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. So as I said, people gravitate toward him. He’s a quiet, confident guy that he always portrays.

CP: I love that. Is there anything else you want to mention that I didn’t touch on, maybe?

TB: No. I just think Trey’s work habits were taught by his mom and dad, Carlton and Angie, early on, and he’s carried that. We always hope Trey Lance is going to be Trey Lance. So far, he’s kept that attitude from everything we’ve heard. We try to text every couple of weeks. He’s enjoying it and working hard, as I told people who drafted him that he’s going to be the face of the franchise. Now that we know it's the 49ers, I’m guessing [he’ll be there] 15 years. He’s still only 21 years old. So I think he’s gonna have a great career.