Javon Kinlaw admits he was surprised by how good he was in 2017.
Defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson goes even farther than that.
“I will be the first to tell you I’m shocked,” South Carolina’s defensive coordinator said of his junior defensive tackle.
“I would never thought he would lose that much weight. I would never have thought that his effort and his quickness would be up to par like it is,” Robinson said. “He’s a talented, talented dude, and the sky is the limit for him. He’s a worker. When you get big people like that, that’s the one thing you worry about, will they work? The guy works. We are excited about him.”
Kinlaw arrived last summer from Jones Junior College weighing 340 pounds. He was down to 326 by the time the season started, and he’s playing at 296 pounds this spring.
“He’s come a long way,” coach Will Muschamp said. “More than anything, understanding about the nutritional part of it. It takes a huge buy-in from the student-athlete, and Javon has done a great job of buying into that, understanding the things he needs to do to be successful. Losing the weight has helped his conditioning tremendously. It’s let him play longer and helped him have better endurance as a player.”
Kinlaw started 10 games at defensive tackle last year, finishing with 20 tackles, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
“I feel like I got better, so I definitely surprised myself throughout the whole season,” the 6-foot-6 Goose Creek native said.
This spring, he is focused on learning more of the playbook, a necessity now that he finds himself an upperclassmen.
“With me transitioning from a young guy to an older guy now, it’s a big thing for me,” he said. “Instead of asking the older guys what to do, guys are asking me what to do, so I feel like I need to be able to know what to do at all times.”
Barring injury, Kinlaw will start every game at defensive tackle this fall and will be expected to anchor the South Carolina defense, but he’s hesitant to predict what type of season he might have.
“For me, only time will tell,” he said. “I can’t just go out and make predictions now. I feel I can be as good as I want to be. I just let it come. I don’t set goals. That’s not what I do.”
The South Carolina coaches will be happy to set goals for him.
“We are going to need him to be really good,” Robinson said. “We don’t have a bunch of people behind him, so we’re going to need him to stay out there a long time.”
Kinlaw’s play will be one of the keys that determines how the rest of the defense is able to play around him.
“He’s a big dude. He’s a space-eater,” Robinson said. “When you look at a guy that size, you think, ‘OK, run stopper,’ but that guy can rush. That’s one of the things that will help us inside, because they won’t be able to chip Bryson (Allen-Williams), they won’t be able to chip Dennis (Wonnum). They are going to have to put some time in on Kinlaw or he will go off on them pretty good.”