Klem rushed way into Raider record book

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

JASPER — It’s a rainy July Thursday afternoon at the Bohnert Park shelter house, and Dave Klem is fondly reminiscing about his high school football career with Southridge, more than 40 years after it all happened.

The 1977 graduate knows how much he misses the camaraderie and the excitement from his playing days. Klem makes sure to tell former teammate Mike Duncan, ‘That’s my quarterback,’ when he sees him. Duncan returns with, ‘That’s my running back.’

And run he did. In 1974, Klem became the first player in Southridge history to rush for 1,000 yards. He ran roughshod over opposing defenses, modeling his style after Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton by pumping his legs. Klem especially proved to be difficult to tackle his senior year, when he ran for 1,745 yards and finished with 3,595 career yards — a record that has since been broken.

A running back crediting his offensive line might seem cliche, but Klem knows his men opened up holes and set things up real nicely for him in his four seasons with the Raiders.

“We had some excellent, excellent offensive and defensive linemen,” Klem said. “It just wasn’t me. If you know anything about football, it all happens right there — the line of scrimmage.”

He took after his late older brother, Steve, in playing football. Dave went to his older brother’s practices and learned all of the plays. Both of them became known as “Punkin” when they played football.

While some student-athletes might not get the chance to shine until later on in varsity, Dave was the opposite. He earned his way onto the varsity squad as a freshman, bypassing freshmen and junior varsity ball. Dave rushed for 425 yards for a Raiders team that went 5-5 in 1973.

“What did they see in me — a heart, determination,” Dave said. “When I got on the football field, that was my place. I loved it.”

Dave saw a coaching change after his freshman year. The 1973 season was Jim Bardwell’s last, and Southridge’s longtime athletic director would be replaced by Bud George and his Wing-T offense. This got Dave more carries, and his first 1,000 yard season soon followed.

Again, he credited his offensive line for making that possible, and some people he had to single out, such as Kevin Wertman. Dave recalled a time he ran into Wertman when the latter was blocking for him.

“Kevin hurt his knee, and he was a pulling guard on offense,” he said. “And he was kind of limping a little bit, and he wasn’t doing his job. So, I hit him with my helmet in his back — boom! He looked at me. I thought, ‘Oh my, I’m in trouble now.’ He looked at me, he says, ‘Punkin, follow me.’ ”

Follow him he did. Dave eclipsed the plateau in a 38-0 downing against Heritage Hills in the team’s Nov. 8, 1974 finale. He gained 80 yards to finish his 1974 season at 1,027 yards. He was proud as a sophomore to have been his team’s first 1,000 yard rusher, but he never gave much thought to it.

Dave earned his first All-Pocket Athletic Conference selection that year. He helped Southridge enjoy its first-ever winning campaign. The Raiders went 6-4 in just their third year of existence, and Dave would help see the winning ways continue during his time as an upperclassman. He finished with 850 yards that year.

He played through pain, sustaining a hip injury one point his junior year, and a broken collarbone in the finale against the Patriots. Yet, the Raiders still went 8-2, and Klem found himself on the All-PAC squad for the second year in a row.

Dave didn’t wait until his final game of high school to have another 1,000 yard season. He dashed for 164 yards on 30 carries in a 50-24 win against Wood Memorial on Oct. 16, 1976. That put him at 1,034.

The 1976 Raiders still ran the Wing-T, but a it was a variation of the offense. Opposing defenses worried about stopping the ground game, so Southridge passed more. Dave got less touches, but accumulated more yards, and with 1,034 yards on the season and three more games to go, he was hardly done. All of it culminated Nov. 5 against Corydon, and Dave had what he called the most memorable game of his career.

He had to give a shoutout to another one of his former linemen. This time, it was Steve “Jolly” Enlow. Dave praised Enlow for always being a good lineman, but he elevated his game to a completely different level that night. The result? Southridge 56, Corydon 20. Klem finished with four touchdowns to go along with his 340 yards.

Dave likened Enlow to looking like former NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher when they ran the 24 Dive play at one point in that game. He remembers how mad Enlow was that night — that Dave’s late mother, Ruby, could’ve ran through the holes Enlow and the line opened.

“Boom, knock that linebacker, Boom knocking that safety,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ He opened up the sea.

“…I didn’t do that that night,” Dave later added. “But everybody thought, ‘Well that’s the greatest performance ever.’ I said, ‘Talk to that guy (Enlow). He’s the one that did it.’ That was very memorable. To this day, it is.”

He also ran track and competed in baseball, but attracted some football attention at the collegiate level. Dave spoke longtime to Western Kentucky University coach Jimmy Feix about joining his program, and told of attracting attention from Indiana University’s Lee Corso. John Moses from the University of Evansville was also interested in him when the Purple Aces still had a football time.

“I actually went down to U of E, and I lasted a couple weeks,” he said. “I just didn’t have the passion and desire to play anymore, and plus, there was a girl involved. That will get you every time, but looking back now, I’m glad I didn’t play college football because I was susceptible to injury anyway, and I still got my wits — I think I do.”

Dave later attended Indiana State University, holding close to a motto — Faith, Hope and Love — of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity he was in. He would later work in sales for a good while. The year 2020 has been a struggle for many, but it was in 2008 that Dave endured a very rough stretch.

“My mother died, my son (Aaron) died, I got a divorce after 27 years and then I was jobless,” he said. “This all happened within a 10-month period of time.”

He spent many years in Bowling Green, Ky., but it was after the divorce that his daughter, Krista, asked him to move back to Huntingburg.

“ ‘Honey, you’re my home,’ ” Dave told her. “She says, ‘Dad, I’m getting married in three months. Go back to your family and friends. Everybody knows you — the old Punkin, go up there.’ ”

Dave returned home in December 2008, and has remained back in Southern Indiana ever since. It was that hope and faith that he clung to that he would get out of his funk, and he did. He got a job at Dubois Wood Products. Dave was reunited his old Southridge teammate, Brian Meyerholtz, the president of the company, before moving onto his current location at Kimball International.

He emphatically mentioned his grandkids when talking about life now. Dave now lives in Dale, and is a grandfather to eight.

“Life’s good,” he said.