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Know Your KU History: Dr. John H. Outland

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It’s about time Know Your KU History stretches back into the 1800’s.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Born in Hesper, Kansas, raised in Johnson County, Kansas, and schooled in Lawrence, Kansas, Dr. John H. Outland is a name that should be familiar to the KU faithful even though you have to go back to the origins of football to begin to understand his significance.

Outland started his collegiate football career at Penn College in Iowa (now called William Penn University) playing the 1891 and 1892 seasons, ended it in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania during the 1897 and 1898 campaigns, all the while squeezing in two seasons at KU in 1895 and 1896 (clearly there were no transfer or eligibility rules like there are today). In addition to his longevity, he was also versatile, earning All-America status at Penn in 1897 as a tackle and in 1898 as a tailback, one of the few to have ever been honored on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But to a Kansas fan, his time at Penn was significant for something other than the honors he received.

Philadelphia was the place where Outland attended the Penn Relay Carnival, the precursor to the Penn Relays. He was inspired by the event, and as a member of the athletic board at KU (along with some guys named Naismith and Allen), he founded the Kansas Relays in 1923. The event has long been considered one of the most prestigious in the Midwest, and is an annual platform for local and national track talents as well as a showcase for the University of Kansas, something Outland would probably be proud of today.

Despite his full time job as a physician, Outland also took the time to coach the Kansas football team in 1901. He wasn’t overly successful and steered the Jayhawks to a 3-5-2 record in his only season at the helm, but again, his biggest contributions came off the field.

One of the most recognized trophies in college football has its origins in Kansas. The Outland Trophy is given annually to the nation’s best interior lineman and was created by its namesake because he believed that linemen weren’t getting as much credit as they deserved. The trophy was first awarded in 1946 and today the Outland Trophy is one of the most coveted individual trophies in college sports with famous winners such as Alex Karras, Merlin Olsen, Bruce Smith, Will Shields, and Ndamukong Suh.

Dr. John H. Outland might not have been as impressive on the athletic field or racked up the awards like others at KU, but his historical importance should never be in doubt.