Most South Carolina players stuck to the script when talking with reporters on Tuesday, expressing excitement for the team’s season-opener against North Carolina on Saturday in a business-like manner.
All except Javon Kinlaw.
The defensive tackle was his normal relaxed, jubilant self, laughing and joking and talking about how excited he is to face the Tar Heels in Charlotte.
“Shoot, I’m relaxed all the time, what do you mean? You know me,” Kinlaw said. “I’m always in a good mood. Stop playing.
“[I’m excited about] getting to be out there with the guys. I missed a game last year with my hip injury and stuff, but I’m just really excited to get the season going, get things rolling and see how we look as a unit.”
The 6-6, 310-pound Kinlaw has appeared in 25 games over the past two seasons (22 starts) for South Carolina but missed the spring following hip surgery. With NFL Draft hype surrounding him and Gamecock coaches praising his talent, the senior will be looked upon to provide significant production along the defensive line this season.
Kinlaw, a member of the preseason Chuck Bednarik watch list that recognizes college football’s defensive player of the year, was also named to the All-SEC second-team.
“I feel like I’m a pretty good player,” Kinlaw said. “I’m not going to brag on myself.”
A few minutes earlier, the senior downplayed a similar question.
“I’m just a kid trying to make it happen,” said Kinlaw, who transferred to South Carolina from Jones County Community College before the 2017 season. “I stuck with the plan and the whole process. I never, not once, really thought about quitting on myself.
“I’m proud of myself, but there’s a lot more work to do. I’m still not really where I want to be. So there’s a lot more work to be done. But at the same time, I have done a lot of work to get to this point in my life and I’m proud of myself.”
Now it’s about taking one game at a time.
He spoke about facing the North Carolina true freshman quarterback Sam Howell (“He’s getting the start, so of course he’s going to be a good player”) and the Tar Heels’ starting running backs (“They run hard and they’re pretty physical. You can’t really get bounced out of your gaps with them”).
Throughout the eight minutes he spent with reporters, Kinlaw used the word “calm” at least 10 times, including several when talking about being a team leader.
“[I just tell the younger guys] to stay focused and stay locked in,” he said. “I try to talk to them and get in their heads. Just calm down and breathe. Play the next play.”
For Kinlaw, it’s dancing on the field that helps him relax. Earlier this week, South Carolina Athletics Creative Media Producer Alex Grant posted a video to Twitter of Kinlaw dancing on the field during the Gamecocks’ home game against Florida in 2017.
“I’m dancing all the time,” Kinlaw said. “Y’all know me, that’s what I do. Dancing, it keeps me calm. It keeps me level-headed. I never get too high, never get too low.
“And it gives me a lot of energy too.”
Kinlaw surely had energy on Tuesday.
When asked about how many plays in a row he feels comfortable playing against an up-tempo offense, he responded, “Don’t matter. Ten. Twenty. Thirty. Forty. Fifty,” pausing between each number to drag out the laughs he got.
When asked if the Gamecocks eat mustard on the sideline to help with cramping he responded, “We don’t need no mustard or no magical potion. We’re nitty gritty. We’re down and dirty. We don’t worry about heat. I can be 130 degrees, we’ll still be out there.”
Surprisingly, when asked how he plans to celebrate a potential caused turnover this week he smiled wide and answered, “I’m just going to go sit down.”
Moments before his chat with reporters, Kinlaw grabbed an ABC Columbia microphone and did a mock interview with statewide radio host Will Palaszczuk.
Palaszczuk asked Kinlaw how camp was going.
“It’s going great,” he said. “Now that it’s over with.”
In other words, Kinlaw is ready to go.
Said the senior, “I just love that the season is back. The season is here. We’ve waited so long. … It’s a good feeling to get back out there and be with my boys.”