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Jon Van Diest imposing his will in Buffs’ defense

Fifth-year junior Jon Van Diest is making his case for increased snaps in a crowded linebacker room.

NCAA Football: Utah at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A team player through and through, Jon Van Diest was there when he was needed in 2020’s whirlwind of a season. Take a look at the Buffs leading tacklers from last year and his value immediately stands out. He was on the field for just 81 snaps last year but his 2.8 total tackles per game was comparable to nearly every player ahead of him that saw around 300 snaps. Yes, linebackers typically get a high number of tackles, but Van Diest was everything the Buffs could have asked for. Fellow inside linebacker Nate Landman is a tough dude to beat out, though.

For Van Diest, he believes his work ethic will provide that extra nudge to get him on the field more often.

“Obviously I want to play and start,” Van Diest said. “The beauty of football is it’s competitive, and that comes from with another team but also in the linebacker room. But I know I’ll see the field because of my work ethic, who I am and what I know and how I can play.”

As a fifth-year junior, courtesy of COVID, Van Diest’s experience does give him an advantage over his peers on many levels. His career as a Buffalo began as a redshirt freshman in 2017 but got off to a rough start when he tore his ACL. He rebounded in 2018 but saw limited action on defense and special teams. In 2019, he started the first five games on defense and totaled 17 total tackles before Akil Jones earned his way into a starting job.

Numbers don’t tell the entire story, however, with his ability to lead by example speaking volumes. While CU’s linebacker room was decimated by injuries and COVID-19 during spring ball, Van Diest was asked to step up and he rose to the challenge. Karl Dorrell said the spring he put together was one of Colorado’s most consistent and led to a lot of growth. Van Diest concurred and continued to work over the summer. He said with the help of new strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley, there was no typical summer “drop off” in his progression as a player. Aside from personal growth, his leadership abilities also took the next step.

“Coming from the spring, all those reps has really helped me as a leader in knowing what to do on the defense and coaching the younger guys and the younger linebackers who are finding themselves and getting some good reps in,” he said.

Van Diest, who made a pair of spot starts in 2020, will once again be fighting for every snap he can get. He’s currently listed second on the pre-fall reps chart under Landman, who appears to be healthy and will likely start game one. At the other inside linebacker position, Oklahoma transfer Robert Barnes has been getting the first team reps. Van Diest did start one game at each inside linebacker spot last season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he worked his way into a battle with Barnes and Notre Dame transfer Jack Lamb.