When he first arrived on campus at South Carolina before the 2017 season, Javon Kinlaw was already a big man. However, he was still working on becoming a big time football player. As things stand five games into his senior season, that work is paying off for both Kinlaw and the Gamecocks. The team itself has been a bit up and down so far in 2019, but their big number three at defensive tackle is making plays every week.
Javon Kinlaw; Big Man with Big Game
The 6-7 300 pound lineman from Goose Creek flirted with the NFL draft after last season. He got some feedback and decided he should come back to Columbia and work on his game. That decision is looking very likely to pay off big time next spring, as Kinlaw has propelled himself into a potential first round pick in the 2020 draft. He also had a new addition to his family that has helped him renew his focus and motivation moving forward. His baby daughter was born during the off-season. She has provided a calming influence to him off the field, but also become his main motivation in between the lines.
When he first arrived at South Carolina, he was too big of a man. The coaches and trainers on campus immediately started working with him to shed the extra weight and mold him in the physical specimen he has become. Kinlaw lost over 40 pounds, and has gotten in excellent shape while still being quite massive. Instead of the overweight mammoth he was a few years back, he has now only 17% body fat on his imposing frame. His playing time and effectiveness were both stunted by his physical conditioning as a sophomore. He could only play in spurts, because he just wasn’t in good enough shape to sustain his fitness during games. He worked hard to lose a lot of the bad weight he was carrying. Once he got that step was finished, next began the molding of a dominant football player.
As a junior he could focus more on learning the game and getting stronger and quicker. His effectiveness and production went up immediately. Kinlaw was the only Gamecock defensive lineman to stay healthy thru the 2018 regular season, and a lot fell on his shoulders. Constant double teams, overlooked holding violations, and a revolving door of players around him became the norm last year. Still, the big man with an infectious smile produced. He had 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, and two forced fumbles in 10 games. He also improved his ability to use his monstrous frame. Kinlaw used his long arms to deflect five passes at the line of scrimmage, and also blocked a field goal attempt.
The decision to come back for his senior year is paying off for the preseason ALL-SEC selection. He hasn’t wasted any time in making his presence felt in the interior of the Gamecock defensive front. Kinlaw recorded a sack in each of the first four games. He has been almost unblockable at times. While he didn’t get a sack this past week in a win over Kentucky, the big man was still a force. His ability to disrupt plays at the line of scrimmage helps open things up for his teammates. He demands a double team, which creates one on one match-ups for his fellow lineman. The Gamecocks pass rush is improving rapidly because of it.
Kinlaw has the size and power to simply overwhelm opposing lineman. It is almost unfair that he is also so quick and agile for someone his size. That combination has become a nightmare for SEC offensive linemen to deal with. His improvement both to his physique and his technical abilities as a defensive lineman has been impressive. He is playing at an All –American level for the Gamecocks, and is working his way up almost every NFL draft board. The senior has also grown into a leader during his time in Columbia. He has also become known for his pension for dancing on the field after a big play or during timeouts. Kinlaw has said the dancing gives him energy, and helps him to remain even keeled. He is having fun out there, at the expense of opposing quarterbacks.
Not a One Man Show
It had been a long time coming, but over the last two weeks, the South Carolina defensive line finally started to perform up to their potential. The run defense is vastly improved, and they are getting more pressure on the quarterback. With Kinlaw and fellow senior D.J. Wonnum leading the way, this unit has started to control the line of scrimmage. Wonnum was just named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after a three sack performance in the victory over the Wildcats last Saturday. He is hoping to end his senior season with flourish so he too can rise up draft boards as well. Kobe Smith is Kinlaw’s partner in crime in the center of the defensive line. The 310 pound senior has improved each of his four seasons, and has become a space eater on the interior.
The younger talents along the line have also started to raise their level of play. Junior end Aaron Sterling is starting to make big plays on a weekly basis, with three sacks in five games. He was playing his best football before an injury ended his 2018 campaign, but he has picked up right where he left off now that he is healthy. Kingsley Enagbare, Rick Sandidge, and Zacch Pickens are the underclassmen who have provided extra depth and energy in the trenches. All three have had bright moments and are showing that the Gamecocks are set for few years with talent along the defensive front.
Games are most often won and lost in the trenches. This South Carolina team has begun to show they can control game with the size and skill their defensive lineman possess. Led by Javon Kinlaw, this group will look to continue and disrupt and harass opposing offenses for the rest of the season.