It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Take University of Nevada boxer Lawrence Tam, for instance.
Wolf Pack boxing coordinator Mike Martino describes Tam as "a little humble" and a young man that exudes a "quiet confidence." Adds Nevada boxing coach Greg Rice: "You've got to like him. He's a modest kid and a classy guy. He never belittles his opponents."
The 23-year-old senior may not be in the habit of belittling his opponents, but he certainly is guilty of bedeviling them. Tam is looking to cap off his collegiate boxing career with a third National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA) national championship this season.
Tam won the NCBA national championship at 112 pounds his freshman and sophomore years, and is the only senior on what Martino calls a "very young but pretty spirited" team that will open its season on Nov. 2 at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
It is a trip that Tam looks forward to because there exists the possibility of meeting arch-rival Xenon Molinari, with whom he's split four bouts. Molinari ended Tam's national title run last year with a 3-2 decision.
"I want to meet him one more time," Tam said. "I beat him, then he beat me. I beat him again, then he beat me again. He reminds me of myself. He has speed, quickness and conditioning. He likes to mix it up a lot. He used to be a kick boxer."
It is Molinari's kick boxing experience that vexes Rice.
"(Molinari) had six years in kick boxing or more," Rice said with a note of irritation. "(As a college boxer) you're not supposed to have had any other (amateur or professional) fights. But this kid is allowed to box anyway. Tam's in real tough. He knows that. This guy is very experienced. Tam had to work all summer, while the other guy was in the gym training."
However, when asked what Tam brings to the table, the hard look on Rice's face is replaced by a smile. He taps the left-hand side of his chest.
"He's got a lot of heart," he said. "He's always in shape. He knows how important training is. Look at him. 'Tam, lift up your shirt.'"
In between rounds of hitting the mitts, Tam obliged. His abdomen rippled with the six-pack effect.
"Look at him. All muscle. And this is the biggest I've seen him (at 119 pounds). I seldom work the corners during matches, but when I've been in his, I ask him, 'Are you ready to go?' He bounces out of his chair and he's halfway across the ring."
Martino echoed Rice's sentiments.
"We've never had an issue with conditioning with him," Martino said. "He's got discipline and a good work ethic. He's our captain. He shows up to practice every day. When a champion shows up to train every day, the other kids see that. You need kids like this so the other kids realize that they have to put their time in. He's in such great shape. He'll press anyone the whole fight. He's not a pure puncher, but he's a boxer."
Tam is not only a boxer, but an athlete as well. Born in Fort Riley, Kan., he moved to Reno in the 7th grade and went on to attend Wooster High school, competing in wrestling and track. After winning a state championship at 103 pounds as a wrestler, he won a full-ride scholarship to Southwestern Oregon Community College, where he had a 16-foot pole-vault in 1997.
Tam left Oregon because he "couldn't stand the weather" and attended North Idaho College before he returned to Reno and entered the University of Nevada's School of Business, where he currently has an emphasis on logistics.
To say Tam has a lot on his plate would be an egregious understatement. One needs only to look at his schedule to see what kind of drive he has.
In addition to showing up at the gym five days a week, Tam carries more than a full load of credits at school (he has five upper-division business classes for a total of 16 credits). He's a bookkeeper at a local law firm, an assistant manager at the Blind Onion Pizza and Pub, and he's also a member of the Air National Guard, where he spends one weekend a month applying his logistical skills.
So what is a typical day like for Tam?
"I get up at 6 a.m. and do my three-mile run around UNR," he says. "I do the stairs at Lawlor (Events Center). Monday, Wednesday and Friday I work at the law firm from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. I go to the gym from 4 till 6. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I have night classes from 7 till 10. On Tuesday and Thursday I go to class all day. Then I do my homework all weekend."
There is certainly an easier route to take, but it's one that Tam chooses to ignore.
"It makes me feel good when I accomplish it at the end of the day," Tam said. "I get the most I can out of life. I've worked so hard so far. I'm just looking for it all to pay off."
For Tam it will all pay off in December of 2003, when he gets his degree. He doesn't box with the hopes of some day going to the Olympics or turning professional. He boxes for the purest reason of all.
"I like competition," he said. "I look forward to going out and getting in front of the crowd, with everyone cheering you on. There's nothing like the game-day feeling of boxing. You go through the whole day in a daze. It's all I can think about. It's always on my mind.
"(Getting the national championship back) means the world to me. It would be devastating to lose again this year. I may have lost last year, but at least I have another chance. I'm going to do everything I can to prepare to win another one. I'm already in training mode. I'm getting serious. I feel if I can get through this, I can get through anything."
"You wonder how he does it," Rice said. "He's got a lot of personal pride that says, 'I want to be a winner.' He will do well in life."
And Tam does it all in his own way-quietly, humbly and respectfully.
"A lot of guys win a championship and you never see them again," Rice said. "After he won the nationals, he came knocking at my door. He came in and thanked me. He came to the house with a card. How many people do that?"
Whoever came up with the saying "Nice guys finish last" obviously never met Lawrence Tam.