TDR Interviews Indian QB Kempe

By Sterling C. Beard

The term “field general” is often used to describe quarterbacks. The analogy is appropriate; QBs are the leaders of the offense and much of a team’s success rides on their arm strength and decision-making ability when they stand in the pocket. And when he takes the field wearing Indian green, Conner Kempe ’12 looks every inch the military commander with his towering 6’4” and 225 pound frame. Opponents are quickly learning to fear Dartmouth’s latter-day Schwarzkopf. Kempe led the offense in the ’09 homecoming win over Columbia that snapped a seventeen game losing streak and this season he’s led the squad to a 1-3 Ivy record and 4-3 overall.

All of this becomes more remarkable when one realizes that the junior, who hails from Benjamin High in Tequesta, Florida probably shouldn’t be able to walk right now. In fact, the odds say he should be dead. During November of his junior year in high school, Kempe suffered a severe injury while kite boarding, a sport where one surfs the ocean while attached to a parachute. A strong gust hoisted Kempe up 60 feet into the air and carried him inland in a flight path more reminiscent of a Tomahawk missile than of one of his passes. Upon arriving over solid ground, he proceeded to slam through a fence, flew into the seventh story of a building, dropped down and removed a bumper from a Mercedes, and finally augured into a fountain before getting dragged three hundred yards down a street. The damage was bad enough that after being found unconscious, he was airlifted to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach and read his last rites. After all, not many people can survive a laundry list of injuries that includes a collapsed lung, fractures to the face, ankle, patella and mangled legs. One would probably stand a better chance of surviving a high-speed pile up on the highway.

Fortunately for Dartmouth—not to mention himself—Kempe has the durability of a Terminator and apparently didn’t feel like shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon. It didn’t take long for Kempe to return to the game he loved after surviving an ordeal that would’ve killed lesser men. While doctors initially feared he had suffered severe brain damage or paralysis, he ended up not needing any surgery. For seven weeks, he tossed hospital nurses a football from his wheelchair. Then, the wheelchair was gone and he was trying like crazy to get back into shape. The next February, he was back on the football field, practicing with his team.

That willingness to do hard work and refusal to give up no matter what the odds has served him well. A three year starter who shattered multiple records for his high school, Kempe was widely regarded as an elite prospect by Floridian and national media outlets, even after returning from his accident. A two star recruit according to Scout.com and Rivals, Kempe also received overtures from Harvard and Penn but chose to come to Hanover, mainly because of the kind of environment the College has, especially in terms of the size and social life. It didn’t take long for Kempe to find ways to contribute once he was up here. He’s been getting a share of the starts ever since his freshman year in 2008, a time when the team struggled to an 0-10 season. He was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week during his performance against Cornell that year when he went 25-52 for 256 yards. Fast forward to two years later and the iron man is leading the squad through its finest season in over a decade, which now includes a win over the Big Red. According to Kempe, though, that’s not enough. Not by a long shot. “It’s definitely very satisfying to have all our hard work over the last two years pay off,” Kempe said in a brief interview, “but we aren’t done yet. We are feeling good about the season, yet at the same time we already have three losses, so those are troubling. We will not settle at trying to improve until we finish a season 10-0.”

In addition to leading the Indians to a winning record, Kempe is quickly working on setting records just like he did in high school. After entering the season at 20th on Dartmouth’s all-time passing list (just behind current head coach Buddy Teevens ’79), he’s flown up the charts and now sits at seventh, only 419 yards behind David Gabianelli ’87 and the number five slot. That’s fine by Kempe, but he could really care less at the moment. “Stats are a thing to look at [after the season], not during season,” Kempe said. “The main goal for any football team is winning so that is what I am striving for.”

And win he has, but greater things are in store. Next year, Kempe will be a senior with a real chance to lead Dartmouth to its first Ivy League title in fifteen years.