Javon Kinlaw: from homelessness to NFL Draft
MOBILE, AL (WOLO) — Javon Kinlaw is one of a kind.
His personality is infectious. His smile contagious.
Behind that smile is a story of despair, relentlessness and a pursuit of happiness.
Kinlaw and his brothers were born in Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation in the Caribbean. His mother, Leesa James migrated with her children to Washington D.C., where they arrived, hoping for a fresh start.
James was unlucky. Hew business ventures failed, forcing Kinlaw and his brothers into homelessness.
“We went without electricity, no water, things like that,” Kinlaw said during a press conference at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive tackle is honest and humble about his upbringing, telling stories so vivid you’d believe it happened yesterday.
“We had to use the neighbors’ bowls to fill up totes of water, and we would take them back in the house. We had gas… a gas stove we’ve light with a little match. Get a tall pot, boil water, mix it with cold water, put it in a bucket and take it upstairs to take showers.”
Kinlaw, who will likely become a millionaire this April, had no idea life could be any different.
“At a young age, we just thought it was normal,” he said. “That’s how we were living. We didn’t know how everybody else was living, and we were cool with that.”
A few years went by, and James found shelter with the family’s neighbors, while Kinlaw went to live with his father in South Carolina.
He enrolled at Goose Creek High School in Charleston and became a freak on the football field. His senior year, Kinlaw was 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds with his sights on playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
That didn’t happen… right away.
Kinlaw started to skip school, and his academics slowly declined. Junior college was the only option, so he enrolled at Jones County Junior College in Mississippi.
“My first two days of Juco, I didn’t even eat,” said Kinlaw. “I didn’t know it was free, but once I found out, I was going crazy.”
He was named a NJCAA All-American in 2016, and the Gamecocks came calling again, eventually signing him.
His three seasons at USC were capped by an incredible senior year. First-team all-SEC, six sacks, two fumble recoveries in 12 games, and he’s not done yet.
He’s projected to go in the top 20 of this year’s NFL Draft.
“I just wanna run through someone,” said Kinlaw.