COLUMBIA — Javon Kinlaw is monstrous. His biceps are bigger than most people’s heads, and his wingspan would shame the average albatross. Legend has it he once tamed a junkyard dog just by looking at it.
He cowers before this latest development. He’s unafraid of any crimson helmet or orange jersey that may cross his path this season, but he’s a puddle of Javon Kinlaw whenever she comes around.
Eden Amara is four months old and lives in Johnsonville with her mother. Kinlaw’s transition to fatherhood has soothed the beast, except on those fall Saturdays when he again transforms into the Gamecocks' viciously savage defensive tackle.
He wanted to play well on those Saturdays last year before his daughter arrived. That hasn’t changed.
But he wants to play better this year so those college football Saturdays will lead him into NFL Sundays.
“I got a child to feed now, so I’m all in,” Kinlaw said. “She’s got to eat. That’s the main thing. She’s going to be a big girl, so she got to eat.”
His sheer size had him on NFL Draft boards last year. Pro coaches love a 6-foot-6, 310-pound marauder with arms so long he can nearly scratch his knees without bending over. If Kinlaw had chosen to go pro last year, it’s likely he would have been drafted.
Yet another college season, where he could really show off his skills, beckoned. He declared his intention to return and immediately became a potential first-round draft pick, where he could land the kind of contract that could provide for Eden her entire life.
Kinlaw has been through so much already, rising from a childhood spent in near-homelessness to struggling with grades at Goose Creek High. He was a budding football star but had to go to junior college in Mississippi before following through with his commitment to the Gamecocks, and then he had to lose over 40 pounds during a season.
He appreciates all of it, although he doesn’t like to think about it. Eden arrived, and his goals became streamlined.
Play a great season, get paid, provide for Eden.
“I still got a long way to go,” he said. “I just try to keep my head on straight and keep pushing forward.”
He was good last year, one of the Gamecocks’ few defensive linemen to stay healthy throughout the season, until a hip injury knocked him out for the Belk Bowl. Still, he had 38 tackles with 10 for loss and 4½ sacks, those arms swatting five passes, forcing two fumbles and blocking a kick.
It’s hard to get a lot of the glamour defensive stats playing inside the line, but Kinlaw knows if he does his job, he’ll be noticed. Plenty of scouts were on hand to see him during preseason camp, and that won’t change this season. The NFL will watch him to see how many offensive linemen he can punish.
“He makes you smile as a coach. A guy that big, and Javon is physical — he’s a tough-minded guy,” said defensive line coach John Scott, who coached two years with the New York Jets. “He practices hard. It’s a pleasure when you have a guy that can be disruptive like that and play the way you want him to play.”
The NFL is on his mind, but only because he sees it as the fulcrum of his future. His goal is to take care of his family, and pro football can deliver that.
It’s been hard to see Eden as much as he would like, with camp requiring his presence and classes beginning Thursday, but he’s making it work. He spends his days tightening his eye discipline and gap control and any spare minute cradling his baby on those massive forearms, trying to figure out the intricacies of changing diapers.
“I change a lot … got peed on, too,” he said with a wry smile. “I feel like I needed it at this point in time in my life right now. It kind of helped me mature a little bit more, on and off the field.
“My child, I’m telling you, she changed a lot about me, mentality-wise. My girl knows I’m working for something bigger than the both of us right now, so I’m just trying to be able to provide for my family, and they understand that.”
The Gamecocks are counting on Kinlaw this season.
Eden will count on him forever.