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Four Things to Know About Jets' New DT Javon Kinlaw

Former 49ers Defensive Lineman Overcame Hardship to Become a First-Round Selection in 2020

San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (99) fights through the offense during an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, 26, signed with the Jets this offseason after four seasons with the 49ers. Selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft (No. 14), Kinlaw overcame homelessness and hardship at an early age to earn his place in the NFL.

Here are four things to know about the Jets' new defensive lineman:

A Difficult Upbringing
Kinlaw immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago with his single mother, Leesa James, and three brothers in 1998 when he was2 years old. Once in the United States, Kinlaw and his family moved three times, starting in Washington, D.C., then Mississippi then South Carolina. His family struggled with homelessness and found ways to get by, by staying with friends of his mother, often in basements without necessities like electricity or running water.

In 2013, Kinlaw moved to Charleston to live with his father, George, where he enrolled at North Charleston High before transferring to Goose Creek. As a 6-5, 260-pound sophomore, he played both offensive and defensive line ,and earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American game.

Detour to JUCO Before Joining the Gamecocks
As a junior in high school, Kinlaw was a three-star defensive tackle, but his grades and conduct dissuaded interest from Power 5 programs. He left high school a semester early and took the advice of South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp to enroll in a GED program at Jones County Junior College in Mississippi, He received his degree in one year and transferred to South Carolina for his sophomore season.

In his one season of junior college football, Kinlaw received the MACJA South Division MVP award recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. In three seasons for the Gamecocks, he registered 10.5 sacks, 93 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and forced 3 fumbles.

A Proud Father
As a senior at South Carolina, Kinlaw was named a First Team All-American and shot up NFL Draft boards. He had 6 sacks, 6 tackles for loss and 2 pass defenses in 12 games.

The breakout, however, may never have come for Kinlaw without the added motivation from the birth of his daughter, Eden Amara. After Eden was born in the summer of 2019, Kinlaw dominated the pre-draft process and was eventually selected in the first round by 49ers.

"My child, I'm telling you, she changed a lot about me, mentality-wise," Kinlaw told The South Carolina Post and Courier in the spring of 2020. "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."

Connection to HC Robert Saleh
When Kinlaw was drafted by the 49ers in 2020, current Jets HC Robert Saleh was San Francisco's defensive coordinator under HC Kyle Shanahan. He played one season under Saleh as a rookie and in 14 games (12 starts) had 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 pass defenses and returned an interception for a touchdown against the Rams.

While coaching in the Bay Area, Saleh was one of Kinlaw's biggest advocates. Bulked up to 320 pounds, Kinlaw had the physical traits to be a dominant run defender and pass rusher, but Saleh gave him the push to develop his technical skills.

"I love his mindset, I love his practice habits," Saleh said of Kinlaw in the spring of 2021. "I love his want for more knowledge and because of it, I just think once he puts together a great NFL offseason and continues to build all that strength that he has and really hones in on his weight, he learned what kind of weight he wants to play at, and so I just think the sky's the limit for him. I think he's going to be very, very disruptive in there. I think he's going to be a force on the interior defensive line for a while."

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