A year into his football career, Jordan van den Berg asked Providence Christian defensive coordinator Ken Aldridge if he could play linebacker.
That was last summer.
“It was more like a joke and then it turned out I was OK at it,” van den Berg said in a drastic understatement.
He had 98 tackles as a junior, was an all-region selection and an honorable mention at the position in the highly competitive Gwinnett County. His meteoric rise put him on the radar of college coaches and his potential gains, with just two seasons of football under his belt, are tantalizing.
“He picked up playing football as a sophomore and has just grown, both physically and as a player, unbelievably,” head coach Parker Conley said. “It went from just play as much as you can to being our pillar on defense.
"That is definitely because of his work ethic, his belief in pursuit of a bigger goal. He really has a drive unlike anyone else.”
Van den Berg grew up in South Africa and still speaks with that lilting cadence. He played rugby, which accounts for his delight in delivering a hit, and cricket. The family moved to the U.S. when van den Berg was 10. He started at Providence as an eighth-grader but didn't go out for football, or any other sport, for the first two years.
Friends Zach Douglas and Casey Luck convinced van den Berg to try football. He struggled to get up to speed in an unfamiliar sport.
“I considered quitting,” he said. “I didn't understand anything. I just ran around.”
He began to find a comfort level during the first game of the 2017 season.
“After the first hit, I was like, this isn't too bad,” van den Berg said. “Hitting gets me into the game.”
His body developed in step with his knowledge of the game.
“He started growing and became extremely strong, but his fight is what takes that over the edge,” Conley said. “He was really not big at all as a freshman. Now he's 6-4. He's really matured into quite the athlete. We're thankful that we got him when we did. He's been here since middle school and just really didn't have much direction. He's really gone all the way in on this.”
Van den Berg might have been joking about moving to linebacker, but it turned out to be the ideal position.
“He's extremely fast, has a nose for the ball and really likes to hit,” Conely said.
“It's the meanest person on the field,” van den Berg said.
A year has added three inches and more than 20 pounds to his frame. He's looking forward to how that translates to the field as a senior.
“Yeah,” van den Berg said, a devilish grin spreading across his face. “It's going to be a lot of fun to just fly around.”
In just two years, he's become a college prospect.
“He really didn't have much direction as an underclassman and for him to find football, and find a love for that, you just watch his intentionality, how he has approached life and school, is all because of realizing what football can do for him,” Conley said. “He would love to play college football and realizes how special that would be. Any opportunity to do that, he wants to jump on it.
“That is absolutely an option. We've had a handful of schools talking to him, from walk-on opportunities to scholarship opportunities. I think the door is still wide open and he's hoping to prove himself this year.”
Van den Berg's success on the gridiron bled into the rest of his life as well. He played basketball and baseball for the Storm last year.
“Football is his love, but being physically more gifted and being that much more driven has really gone over to other areas of his life,” Conley said. “He has had to work for a lot of things and struggled to find his way at times, but really, really has stood up as a leader for us and is someone that I'm looking forward to seeing play this year.”
Providence, still a young program, set records with four wins last season, but the Storm are hardly satisfied.
“We started out with a tougher summer workout than ever because our goal is to go into the playoffs,” van den Berg said. “We've started with the right mindset and the intensity. A lot of people are buying in right now.”