Klonglan isn’t big, but he’s tough as nails

It takes multiple Madrid defenders to corral South Hamilton running back DJ Klonglan during the Hawks’ 42-13 victory on Sept. 29. Klonglan enters Friday’s game at West Central Valley averaging 8.9 yards per carry. DFJ photo/Tracy Runneberg

JEWELL — DJ Klonglan isn’t a big kid, but he sure plays that way.

The South Hamilton junior running back is listed at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds on the team’s program. Hawks’ head coach Corey Klemp admits that 5-8 might be a stretch, and 155, yeah, that’s probably a little generous, too.

“He’s probably closer to 150 pounds, but he’s every bit of 6-foot, 200 pounds in terms of how he plays,” Klemp said. He’s just that old-school tough football player.”

Klonglan may lack the size of a prototypical running back, but his speed, athleticism and drive have propelled him into a game changer for South Hamilton (6-1, 4-1), which is closing in on its first playoff berth since 2013. He enters Friday’s Class 1A District 6 road game against West Central Valley (2-5, 1-4) with 577 yards and eight touchdowns, and he ranks ninth in the class in yards per carry (8.7) among backs with 20 or more totes.

It may seem like Klonglan came out of nowhere — he got just one carry in the Hawks’ season-opening victory over South Hardin — but Klemp insists he was in the team’s offensive game plan long before starting running back Tanner Volkmann went down with a shoulder injury in Week 2.

“DJ was going to factor in regardless,” Klemp said. “He was going to be the guy that came in for a few reps for Logan (Klemp), he was going to come in for Tanner … he was going to get his looks. But injury forced him into being in that role all the time.”

Injuries derailed Klonglan as a freshman and sophomore, but that hasn’t been a problem this fall. His breakout came in Week 3 when he battered Manson-Northwest Webster for 189 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. He went over 100 yards two other times, most recently in last week’s 41-0 rout of Ogden when he tallied 166 yards and three more scores.

“He’s got a little shiftiness and a little burst. He’s just a real nice runner,” Coach Klemp said. “And (fullback) Grant (Evans) and Logan provide a pretty decent lead block.”

The versatility that South Hamilton possesses in the backfield and the continued improvement up front has been a big key in the team’s ascension into second place in the district. The Hawks have the sixth-best rushing attack in 1A (1,972 yards), and when Logan Klemp isn’t blocking, he’s also chewing up yards in chunks. He averages 7.6 yards per carry himself and leads the team with 763 yards, the second-most in District 6.

With two backs averaging better than 7.5 yards per carry, the Hawks can grind opposing defenses into the ground.

“Yeah, that’s pretty good,” Coach Klemp said. “Traditionally what we’ve averaged per carry, we’re far beyond that. That average is a testament to themselves, but also to what the line has done and what Grant as done.”

Evans has certainly played a pivotal role, too. He can lug the ball — he’s put up 273 yards and three TD’s — but his ability to punish opposing linebackers as he blocks for Klonglan and Logan Klemp has been invaluable.

“I know I wouldn’t want to get in front of him,” Coach Klemp said of Evans. “He’s played a huge role in the success of DJ and Logan.”

A South Hamilton win over West Central Valley, coupled with an Eagle Grove loss to Ogden, would punch the Hawks’ postseason ticket. If South Hamilton and Eagle Grove both win, the Hawks would need to beat the Eagles in Week 9 to assure themselves of a 10th game.

In other words, they have a heck of a lot left to play for.

“There’s a lot more at stake, that’s for sure,” Coach Klemp said. “But the kids, from the get go, have had this as their vision, so it’s not like we’re in a spot they didn’t expect to be in. There’s some added pressure on them, but it’s the stuff that they’re ready for.”

West Central Valley will pose a challenge with a passing game that ranks second in 1A with 1,591 yards. Quarterback Carson Wadle has completed 89 passes for 1,583 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 205 pass attempts are the most in the class, as are his 14 interceptions.

“It’s very similar to last week (against Ogden) in the sense that they’ll run a lot of four- and five-receiver sets,” Coach Klemp said. “It will definitely be a tough match-up for us, but one that we’ll be ready for.”