Jordan van den Berg is not of Penn State football’s best known players.
The third-year defensive tackle is part of a deep DL and isn’t likely to start when Penn State opens its season against West Virginia under the Beaver Stadium lights in a little more than a week.
But the Penn State fans who are familiar with Van den berg probably know him best for two things: his story, and his strength.
Let’s start with the story.
Penn State’s gotten great players from, of course, Pennsylvania, but also places such as Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Texas.
So it’s not unusual for Penn State to go somewhat far away to find talent.
But a player from South Africa? Well, that’s a little more unique.
Van dan Berg grew up in America, but his family moved to South Africa when he was 10. A former rugby player, van den Berg started playing football as a sophomore in High School at Providence Christian Academy back in Georgia.
It was hard for van den Berg to get exposure, so he started his college football career at Iowa Western Community College.
That exposure was enough for Penn State to notice him, and he came to State College ahead of the 2021 season.
As a reserve, van den Berg hasn’t gotten too many chances to turn heads on the field, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting national recognition.
That’s because of his strength.
Van den Berg is strong. Like, really really strong. Strong enough to where the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman feels there are only 14 players in college football that fit the “freak” definition more than he does.
For an athlete, to be called a “freak” is a compliment, just so we’re clear.
I would like to thank Jesus ✝️ For being ranked 15th in the Nation on BRUCE FELDMAN’S FREAKS LIST pic.twitter.com/6B6zieW4uH
— Jordan van den Berg (@JordanvandenB12) August 16, 2023
“This offseason, he benched 455, cleaned 380 and back-squatted 690,” Feldman wrote, “but it’s the combination of the strength with his agility numbers that forced his way onto the list.”
Feldman noted than Van Den Berg ran a 4.74 40-yard dash and “his shuttle time of 4.20, might be even more impressive.”
A little more than a week after Feldman released this year’s freak’s list, I asked van den Berg about being named to it at a post-practice media session.
This gave van den Berg a chance to dive into his family history.
“My grandmother, she swam in the Olympics,” he said. “My grandfather, he was a bodybuilder. He competed against Arnold. So it’s definitely an honor to be doing something that I can one day tell my kids about. It means a lot to me.”
Van den Berg’s grandma was a woman named Joan Rocchi. She broke multiple South African swimming records. His grandfather, a man named Michael van den berg, was Mr. South Africa for bodybuilding, and, yes, the “Arnold” that he competed against was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who you might have heard of. He was in the Terminator movies.
Van den berg’s path to Penn State has been quite an adventure, and through it all, his faith has been a constant.
“The journey had a lot of ups and downs, but, the thing that kept me stable is just trusting God and believing that he had a plan for me,” he said. “Throughout that, I never had a worry about it because I knew God always knew where I was meant to be.”
Van den berg takes pride in the effort he puts in when most people aren’t watching, such as when he’s in the weight room.
“It took a lot of work,” van den Berg said. “A lot of hours that people didn’t see. Everyone wants to be the greatest. Everyone wants to be at Penn State. People don’t understand how much work it really takes, how many hours that you have to put in the dark that no one sees.
If Jordan van den Berg wanted to get into bodybuilding, there’s evidence to suggest that he’d do well. But according to his bio on Penn State’s website, van den Berg wants to be a defensive coordinator one day.
He’d certainly be among college football’s most jacked coaches.