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Freight train, Wyoming style


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“Freight train, freight train, going so fastFreight train, freight train, going so fastPlease don’t tell what train I’m onSo they won’t know where I’m gone.– “Freight Train” by Elizabeth “Libba” CottenElizabeth Cotten, an American blues/folk musician and songwriter, penned those lyrics in the 1950sThey came to her as she recalled watching a train pass by her home in Carrboro, N.C.The words are reminiscent of the University of Wyoming’s own Freight Train, former football player Lawrence Gaines.The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder was a mainstay in the backfield in the early 1970s, rushing for 1,468 yards on 304 carries (4.83 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.Following his UW career, he played three years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions before disappearingOfficials from UW, the Lions and even former teammates have no idea what happened to him after his pro career.A call to Gaines’ former phone number in his hometown of Vernon, Texas, revealed that he is “somewhere in Michigan.”“Lawrence is in the Detroit areaSouthfield, I think,” wrote Aaron Kyle, former UW cornerback and Gaines’ teammate, in an email“I was able to track him down a few years ago when Karl Coleman passed awayThe last number I had was four or five years old.”Gaines was eventually located in West Bloomfield, MichBut many calls there were either screened or went to voicemailAfter an initial contact confirming it was the right Gaines, the calls were never returned.Still, Gaines remains larger than life to a number of UW football old-timersWith his size and with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, he was an uncommon physical specimen in the 1970s for a running back.In his first two years at UW, Gaines played for the late Fritz Shurmur, who had the unenviable task of picking up the pieces from the infamous “Black 14” incident in 1969(A group of players were removed from the team for seeking to wear black armbands to protest some policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)In 1973 as a sophomore and 1974 as a junior, Gaines carried the ball a combined 143 times for 674 yards (4.71 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in 19 games.His best game in 1973 came against Arizona — 27 carries for 102 yardsAnd in 1974 his top effort came versus Utah State when he rushed 11 times for 67 yards.The Cowboys went 4-7 in 1973 and 2-9 in 1974, and Shurmur was replaced by Fred Akers.“When we first got to Wyoming, Lawrence wasn’t aware of how good he was,” Akers recalled from his home in Austin, Texas“Part of that probably was due to some of the losses that had accumulated at Wyoming during that period of time.“It took Lawrence some time to realize his potentialHe started realizing that he could be one of the leaders on the teamPrior to that, he let somebody else lead.”  In his senior year, Gaines had 161 carries for 894 yards (5.55 ypc) and four TDsHe rushed for 186 yards on 31 attempts against New Mexico and was named first-team All-WAC.Former teammate and fellow running back Andy Dixon said that although Gaines was one of the nicest guys on the team, he was a load on the football field.“Getting hit by Lawrence in group work made me wonder why I didn’t play baseball in college,” he said“He wasn’t the best practice player we had on the team but come game time — look outHe always was ready to give 100 percent.”Akers said Gaines was blessed with all the tools.“(He) was one of the most gifted backs I ever had the opportunity to coach,” he added“He had most everything physicallyHe was big, he was strong, he was tough and he was fastHe was a force, I tell youThose safeties didn’t like to tackle him at all.“He was the kind of back the NFL looks forHe was big enough to run through arm tackles and he could catch the footballGetting him isolated on a linebacker just wasn’t fair a lot of times.”And that is exactly what the NFL sawHe was a first-round pick, 16th overall, by the Lions in 1976He went on to play only three seasons (1976 and 1978-79) thereHe missed 1977 with a knee injuryHe was never the same player after thatIn 43 games with the Lions, Gaines had 232 carries for 892 yards (3.8 ypc)He also caught 25 passes for 146 yards and a score.Dixon keeps in touch with a number of former UW players from that era, and he would love to get Gaines involved in their email circle.He has a 1975 UW football season highlight film, and every time he watches it, Gaines’ commentary brings a smile to his face.“He was talking about me, Robbie Wright and himself and made the statement, ‘We some good backs,’” Dixon laughingly recalled.But the Freight Train remains an enigma:Please don’t tell what train I’m onSo they won’t know where I’m gone.  JOIN THE DISCUSSION Rules of Conduct The Boomerang is a community newspaper We encourage comments however posts that contain obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language will not be toleratedComments containing links, including third-party links, must be approved before they are publishedThe comments posted are not necessarily 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