CU Buffs’ Jonathan Van Diest ready to challenge for starting spot

Linebacker played sparingly on defense in a backup role last season

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado linebacker Jonathan Van Diest tore the ACL in his left knee during his true freshman season.

Throughout his years at Cherry Creek High School, Jonathan Van Diest was a dominant force on defense.

It was Van Diest’s talent and style of play that earned him a scholarship to Colorado.

Entering his third year with the Buffaloes, however, Van Diest is still trying to become an impactful player on defense. As he finished spring practices last month, however, he feels closer than he’s been in a while.

“I feel like the last two weeks (of spring) was just a change in my mindset, a change in my game,” said Van Diest, who closed the spring atop the depth chart at one of the two inside linebacker spots. “I still have a lot of growth to do, but I feel like I gained a lot of confidence back in the player I am, especially pre-surgery. That felt good.”

From 2015-17, Van Diest had three consecutive Novembers that included a serious injury and surgery, including a torn ACL in his left knee during his true freshman season at CU.

Van Diest went through last season healthy, but played sparingly (23 snaps on defense) in a backup role. This was Van Diest’s first healthy spring with the Buffs, and he made the most of it by putting himself in position to win a starting job in the fall.

“This spring has just been, the mindset has been to get better every day,” he said. “I’m always learning from the coaches, learning every day.”

Van Diest has been enthusiastic all offseason about the increased intensity in the weight room and practices that has been instilled by first-year head coach Mel Tucker. The physical, intense style fits Van Diest’s mindset.

“We’ve learned to pick it up a notch with this program, because we’re a hard-hitting, physical program, and we’re going to be,” he said. “It felt great to get out there.”

While Van Diest has always had that mindset, learning to apply it to the field once again didn’t come easy after a series of injuries. He showed signs of regaining that in spring.

“It’s a process,” he said. “With injuries and surgeries, it’s learning the mindset again, but I definitely feel after (spring) that I’ve made the strides to go back to that level and the level that this program demands.”

Van Diest will have to maintain that level, and possibly crank it up even more, in the fall to get on the field.

While junior Nate Landman, who led the Buffs with 123 tackles last year and is one of the best linebackers in the Pac-12, is sure to start at one inside linebacker spot, the other is still wide open.

Van Diest finished spring listed as a starter, but junior Akil Jones, sophomore Chase Newman and redshirt freshman Ray Robinson will all compete in the fall, as well. The Buffs are also adding a pair of junior college transfers – Jash Allen and Quinn Perry – and true freshman Marvin Ham to the mix this summer.