“I wanted the chance on a roster, where I felt that the coaches respected the fact that I’m going to come in and work hard and be resilient and persistent, and all the things that I was at Michigan,” said Van Bergen. “I think Carolina really appreciated some of the things that weren’t on a stat sheet about me. 

“I thought it was a good situation going into it. They were honest with me through the whole process. Some teams called me and told me they would take me in the sixth or seventh round and then something happened where they didn’t take me. So to have Carolina tell me upfront what was going to happen and what their situation was, as well as what their role would be for me, it just felt like a really good fit.”

Van Bergen feels that the role the Panthers envision for him matches up well with his experiences at Michigan, which should help him find success moving forward. 

“The label on me for the NFL is really large defensive end and somewhat small defensive tackle,” he explained. “I think some teams might have seen it as a negative that I didn’t fit a particular position, but Carolina wants to use me almost like Michigan did. Depending on who we’re playing and what the situation is, I could play an end on run downs or tackle on a pass down. That’s exactly what they said to me and they liked the fact that I was able to be maneuvered across the entire defensive line. And that was game-to-game that I did that.

“I think my starts were split exactly down the middle at Michigan between tackle and end. I think that was a huge draw for them, as well as for me. I like doing both. I like being able to get on the field as much as I can and I think that will help me at the next level.”

This weekend, Van Bergen will get his first taste of NFL action when the Panthers hold their rookie mini-camp. The former Michigan lineman is anxious to prove that he belongs.

“I’m excited - I feel like I’ve kind of been overlooked as a prospect from this year’s defensive ends,” he explained. “I’m trying to get rid of some of the negative labels that they have on me as just a work hard guy that over-produces. I’m an athletic guy that also happens to have a real strong work ethic. I think that should help propel me through this camp and then fall camp too.

“With learning the playbook and chalk talk, that’s somewhere that I’m comfortable. I excel in the film room. I’ve been through four defensive coordinators and five different defenses … I think that’s something that I will be able to use, as I can quickly adapt and learn - not only at my position, but other positions along the defensive line as well.”

When Van Bergen signed to play at Michigan in 2007, he never could have predicted the rollercoaster ride that would follow. From devastating losses, multiple head coaching changes, yet finishing with a Sugar Bowl victory, he feels that he and his classmates drew strength and character from the experience.

“I never will phrase what we did at Michigan as a disappointment,” he stated. “I would say it was a much harder struggle than I thought it was going to be. You kind of think when Michigan offers you, especially at the time that I got offered, that you’re on the path of gold. I was in the recruiting class right after No. 1 versus No. 2 (Ohio State-Michigan). I watched that and thought ‘I’ll be playing for a chance at a national championship just like these guys.’ I thought that was just something that was going to come because of where I had chosen to go.

“But the lessons that I learned going through the harshness and the struggles that we had to go through, I think that made our senior class one of the most unified and strongest classes, as well as one of the best classes as far as having team leaders. I’ve been told by many previous team captains and past players that we did an excellent job. Guys from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and then Coach Hoke and Coach Mattison as well - they said that we special in our ability to lead. I think that’s all a credited to the stuff that we had to push through as a group.”

A three-year starter on the defensive line, Van Bergen provided his take on the future of the position.

“They’ve got the potential there at all the positions on the defensive line,” he explained. “Unfortunately the depth is going to be a challenge because we were recruiting for a 3-3-5 defense. So they’ve got to get their recruiting classes and their guys in there, and some younger guys will have to play. Young guys are an unknown. Some of them could be as productive as Jake Ryan was this year or some of them might need to redshirt. Unfortunately because of depth, we’re going to need some guys to step up and be ready to play against some big-time offensive linemen in the Big Ten.”

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