There’s been a lot of offseason buzz surrounding South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, a preseason All-SEC pick and a candidate for multiple national honors.
But the 6-6, 300-pound defensive tackle is playing for much more than just postseason awards. He’s playing for his future, and the well-being of his growing family.
“I’ve got a child to feed now, so I’m all in,” Kinlaw said Thursday.
A senior from Charleston by way of Jones Community College in Mississippi, Kinlaw is the father of a baby girl born just four months ago. An NFL prospect who has caught the eye of numerous pro scouts, he is playing for his daughter, Eden Amara.
“She’s got to eat, and she’s going to be a big girl so … .”
Kinlaw grew up on the streets of Washington, D.C., bouncing from home to home with his mother and brothers. He moved to Charleston in the ninth grade to live with his dad and for what he called a “better opportunity.” He began playing football at Goose Creek High School in the 10th grade and started his college career in Mississippi.
When he arrived at South Carolina in 2017, he was an overweight, 340-pound lineman who had to work his way into shape to earn playing time. Now a chiseled, intimidating defensive force, he has the size, strength and athleticism to dominate the line of scrimmage.
He’s expected to anchor a strong defensive line and put himself in position to play at the next level.
“It’s been a long journey, and I still have a long way to go. I just try to keep my head on straight and keep pushing forward,” he said. “I know my life is headed in the right direction. I have my whole life ahead of me and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
He says fatherhood has changed him mentally and emotionally.
“I feel like I needed it at this point and time in my life,” he said. “It’s helped me mature a little bit more, on and off the field.”
Kinlaw was South Carolina’s co-Defensive MVP with linebacker T.J. Brunson last season. A two-year starter, he led the Gamecocks with 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He missed the Belk Bowl and spring practice after having hip surgery but pronounced himself “100 percent” on Thursday.
He has drawn high praise from new defensive line coach John Scott Jr.
“He makes you smile as a coach, a guy that big,” he said. “Javon is physical and he is a tough-minded guy. I like the way he practices; he practices hard. He came into camp in shape so he is moving around well. It’s a pleasure when you have a guy who can be disruptive like that and play the way you want him to play.”
Scott, who coached in the NFL with the New York Jets, believes Kinlaw has the prototypical body for an NFL defensive lineman. He compares him to Pro Bowler Leonard Williams.
“There are not many 6-6, 300-plus pound guys that have his athleticism,” he said. “He’s really strong and he’s got something that only God can give you, extremely long arms so he can separate off blockers. If you had to draw up the body type for that league, that’s the body type.”
Kinlaw played much of last season with the hip injury. (“That’s just who I am, I don’t want to quit,” he said.) He arrived at training camp weighing a solid 300 pounds with about 16 percent body fat. He says he feels even stronger than last season.
“My body feels real powerful right now,” he said. “My strength is going to help with playing blocks. I’m just working on my technique and my eye control, gap discipline, trying to stay in my gaps. My power is going to help me snagging off blocks and things like that.”
He says being a father has made him more focused on and off the field. Asked the biggest challenge of fatherhood, he said, “Diapers.”
“I have changed a lot. I got peed on too.”
His daughter lives with her mother in Johnsonville, S.C. and Kinlaw only sees her on weekends. But focusing on football and the final year of his college career is all part of the long-range plan.
“It’s kinda tough but it is what it is right now,” he said. “My girl, she knows I’m working for something bigger than the both of us. I’m just trying to provide for my family, and they understand that.”
He’s trying not to think too much about the NFL and his long-term future, focusing instead on having a strong senior season and leading South Carolina to a big year.
“I am worried about the main goal right now,” he said. “[Coach] Muschamp always says, ‘be where your feet are,’ so I’m where my feet are right now.”
Scott says his big man has the right mindset during training camp.
“I think he is focused on doing something they haven’t done here in a long time, and that’s being an extremely dominant guy for this football team and in this conference,” he said. “I think that’s his goal for this year, and the right goal to have.”
With five seniors on the defensive line and more depth up front than South Carolina has had in years, Kinlaw believes the defense will be much improved.
“I think we’ve got a chance to do something special here,” he said.