South Carolina football vs. Kentucky 2019

Javon Kinlaw

Javon Kinlaw arrived at South Carolina three years ago with expectations of, in his words, “just being a football player.” Fresh out of Jones Community College in Mississippi, he weighed 340 pounds and was just another talented athlete — albeit one with limitless potential — on the Gamecock depth chart.

Now he’s an All-American and All-SEC caliber defensive lineman.

Now he’s a chiseled 310 with abs resembling a Roman statue.

Now he’s a dad with a future as bright as his made-for-Crest smile.

“It’s been a long journey, man. Coming from the bottom. The bottom of the bottom,” Kinlaw said late Saturday afternoon. “Just slowly working my way up. I’m really proud of myself and everything I’ve accomplished. Being at this university, I’ve become a man.

“With all my coaches around me helping me with things that don’t even have to do with football. Just life in general. Overall, at this university, I owe this university everything. Everything that has come to me is because of this university. I couldn’t do it without everybody that has been involved so far.

“Being here, I even had a child from being here, and that’s the best thing in the world to me.

“Overall, I love this university.”

The numbers — 10.5 sacks, 93 tackles (18 for loss), 10 pass breakups and three forced fumbles in three seasons — have some projecting him, with his now 6-6, 310-pound frame, as a first-round NFL Draft prospect.

“There are not many 6-6, 300-plus pound guys that have his athleticism,” South Carolina defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said before the season. “He’s really strong and he’s got something 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. With my time with the Jets we had Leonard Williams, 6-6, 310-pound guy with that kind of athleticism.”

This season, which ended Saturday with a loss to Clemson, he had six sacks, 35 tackles, two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. He earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance at Georgia (a sack and four tackles) and was a midseason AP first-team All-American.

Along the way, he was a leader for South Carolina and always one who represented the program in a first-class manner. He beamed when talking about his daughter, Eden Amara. Kinlaw used the word crazy six times over a five-minute span Saturday when talking about his journey.

He grew up on the streets of Washington, D.C., bouncing from home to home with his mom and brothers. He moved to Charleston, S.C. in the ninth grade to live with his dad and for what he called a “better opportunity” and began playing football at Goose Creek in 10th grade.

Kinlaw admitted after Saturday’s game it still hasn’t hit him that his college career has ended.

He, of course, wished it could have continued. Even with his status as a top draft prospect, he would have played in a bowl game had the Gamecocks qualified. “I’m very different than anybody else,” he said. “I started something with this team, I’m going to finish it.”

But alas, the career of one of the most talented players to ever man the South Carolina defensive line ended.

“It’s been such a journey. A heck of a journey,” Kinlaw said. “Coming from Goose Creek [High School] to here, to where I’m at, it’s crazy. It’s been crazy. Everything I’ve been through…”

Again, the smile.

For Kinlaw, he’ll play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25, 2020 — his last time in a South Carolina helmet — and then train for the draft, which begins April 23.

In the immediate future, there will be lots of rest.

“I’m taking some time off,” he said. “Big time.”

He deserves it.

Because, although he came to South Carolina to “just be a football player,” he became so much more.