Before moving to Gwinnett County from Johannesburg, South Africa almost a decade ago, the only thing Jordan van den Berg knew about American football was what he had seen in movies.
“Turns out the movies aren’t that precise,” the Peachtree Corners resident joked.
But van den Berg’s story is fit for the big screen as he went from rugby, cricket and swimming in his home country to football, playing at Providence Christian Academy and college, then achieving a dream – the chance to play in Division I college football.
A 2020 Providence Christian graduate, van den Berg hit the mark by signing with Penn State after spending last season at Iowa Western Community College, reinforcing his long-held belief that the show would bring a Division I offer.
He is the first Storm football player in school history to sign with a Power Five school; Former van den Berg teammate Skyler Jordan signed was the school’s first Division I signatory, inked with Alcorn State in March.
“I felt like I didn’t have the opportunities I wanted, so I decided to head to Iowa Western, which is probably one of the best JUCO programs in the country,” van den Berg said. , who reported to State College, Penn. ., in mid-June. “I felt that was where I could get the most collegiate eyes on me.”
“He bet on himself,” former Providence Christian defensive coordinator Ken Aldridge said. “And he ended up getting three Power Five deals – Iowa, Nebraska and Penn State.”
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound van den Berg, who played linebacker at Providence Christian and is rated as a defensive lineman by Penn State, played his first game of football in 10th grade.
“All my friends played it and I just wanted to play contact sport,” he said.
As a Providence senior, van den Berg was 6-3, 225 pounds.
“JJ didn’t really have a lot of footballing IQ – he didn’t know things that you usually take for granted,” said Aldridge, who coached football in Northeast Georgia during a career as a footballer. 30 years. “But he made up for it with his efforts and he really wanted to learn. Many kids these days don’t follow instructions or training very well and he took everything you said, absorbed it and tried to do exactly what you told him to do.
“I think I figured it out pretty quickly,” van den Berg said of the early days of his continuing football education. “I was at a bit of a disadvantage because it was my first year playing, but I tried to learn it as quickly as possible.”
At Providence Christian, van den Berg was named Region 5-A Private Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 and was the first team in all regions in his junior and senior years. He was a second-team All-Gwinnett selection as a senior and was named the Storm’s defensive MVP in both his junior and senior seasons.
Aldridge – who won’t coach football this fall but will coach softball in college – said van den Berg has two gears. Wide open and unlit.
“He has the best engine of any player I’ve ever coached,” said Aldridge. “I coached eight players who played in the NFL and none of their engines at his age were as good as his. JJ is the kind of kid who if you tell him he has to go through a wall to get to something, well, he runs headlong into that wall. He wouldn’t ask why he needs to cross the wall – he just knows when he crosses that wall that he is doing the job.
Although van den Berg was injured in his first game at Iowa Western (who played a shortened spring schedule, ending his season on May 21 with a 7-1 record), he returned to play the final games of season and won first-team honors at the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference. He said the transition to the defensive line has been made a bit easier by a long preseason.
“Learning a new position wasn’t too bad because I arrived on campus in June 2020 and our season didn’t start until March 27, so I had plenty of time to learn the position,” a- he declared.
While Providence Christian football has seen its fair share of struggles in its short existence, Aldridge said he believes van den Berg’s rise to Penn State was a boost for the program and the school. .
“It’s huge for our school, especially for football, but for any sport,” he said. “We’ve had a few DI baseball players, but people really care about DI football players, especially the Power Five.”
Due to the 2020 season being hampered by COVID, the NCAA has allowed another year for affected student-athletes and van den Berg will enter Penn State as a freshman with a considerable number of credit hours already earned. He plans to study sports communication and ultimately wishes to become a trainer.
Just days before flying to Happy Valley, van den Berg said he was satisfied with the turn of events.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s everything you can dream of as a junior college athlete. Growing up you cared about these huge football programs, and I knew if I had the chance I had to take it. “