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Looking back: Kayo Lam runs wild against Mines

Running with ball might have been least interesting skill of the ‘Crooning Quarterback’

CU Athletics
Colorado’s Kayo Lam led the country in rushing in 1935, including 265 yards against Colorado School of Mines on Oct. 19, 1935.
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(Note: The coronavirus pandemic has postponed the fall sports season in the Pac-12 Conference until November and that means no Colorado Buffaloes football at this time. Instead, BuffZone.com will feature memorable games and players from the past as we look back at each week in CU football history. In this installment, we look back at the week of Oct. 19-25.)

Growing up in Glenrock, Wyo., William “Kayo” Lam was considered too small to play football.

Those who played with or against him at Colorado would disagree.

Decades before Rashaan Salaam galloped to CU’s only Heisman Trophy in 1994 and just a year before Byron “Whizzer” White became a star in Boulder, it was Lam gaining national headlines.

CU Athletics
Kayo Lam starred with the Colorado Buffaloes from 1933-35. This is a newspaper clipping from 1935.

Listed at a mere 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Lam, who starred from 1933-35, was as smooth as anyone who ever played in a CU uniform. He was never better than on Oct. 19, 1935, in a 58-0 rout of Colorado School of Mines at Folsom Field (often referred to as Colorado Stadium at the time).

In newspapers the next day, the Associated Press wrote: “Colorado University’s mighty Buffaloes, spurred by Lam and a host of capable substitutes roared through and over the Colorado Mines weak but valiant team here today and smashed them by 58-0 to chalk up their 33rd victory in the 48th renewal of the oldest grid classic of the conference.”

Lam, the Buffs’ quarterback, played just 12 minutes and ran the ball only seven times, but he racked up 265 yards and four touchdowns. Lam’s performance – a CU single-game rushing record until 1971 and still fifth in school history – included runs of 79, 57, 44, 40 and 31 yards. He also threw a touchdown pass.

Although Mines wasn’t a formidable opponent at the time, Lam’s performance was the highlight of a record-breaking 1935 season.

That fall, with White – then a sophomore – as his backup, Lam capped his collegiate career with 1,043 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 145 carries. Hobbled in the finale against Denver, he gained just 31 yards, but that was enough to propel him to the national single-season rushing record.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, Lam broke the record of 1,015 yards by Tennessee’s Beattie Feathers in 1933. White would break the record two years later, with 1,121 yards, but Lam’s effort in 1935 is the first known 1,000-yard season in CU history.

At the conclusion of the 1935 season, CU head coach Bunny Oakes said of Lam: “He is the greatest runner I ever saw in football. He is great in victory, but even greater in defeat. What’s more, he’s a real quarterback. He calls the plays, as well as running, passing, kicking and running back kicks.”

During the 1935 season, in which CU went 5-4, Lam also led the nation in all-around yards. In addition to his 1,043 rushing yards, he had 364 passing yards, 530 on punt returns and 288 on kickoff returns. He was also the Buffs’ punter, averaging about 40 yards per kick.

Lam also led the country in rushing in 1934, with 906 yards. He’s still the only CU player to lead the nation in a major statistical category two years in a row.

The humble Lam, who rushed for 2,140 yards and 18 touchdowns in his CU career, never took much credit, however.

“No back can get very far unless the other fellows go out there and knock ’em down in front,” he once said. “I don’t think (the record) is very important. As long as we win games, that’s what counts.”

It was far more than football that made Lam one of the most fascinating figures in CU history.

Athletically, he lettered twice each in track and wrestling at CU. A conference champion in wrestling, he was also a boxer and rode broncos at his family’s ranch in Wyoming.

He was known as the “Crooning Quarterback” because he paid his way through college with his musical talent. Lam was skilled in playing six different instruments, was a singer and conducted a college dance orchestra. Lam was featured on local radio stations and led orchestras after graduation.

Lam believed his varied interests made him a football star with the Buffs.

“Tap dancing has helped greatly with my football,” he said in 1935. “It makes me lighter and shiftier on my feet. Footwork and change of pace mean a lot in open field running. It would improve the play of any backfield man. Skipping rope also helps toughen leg muscles, and I often tap dance while I’m listening to the radio and keep the muscles in my leg loose and supple.”

The players at Mines wouldn’t argue, as they couldn’t stop him on that October day in Boulder.

Following his career at CU, Lam served during World War II as lieutenant in the Navy. He then spent 36 years working in the CU athletic department, including as an assistant football coach, head wrestling coach and 30 years as the business manager.

Named to CU’s All-Century team and the CU Athletics Hall of Fame, Lam died April 23, 1993.