SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Javon Kinlaw appreciative of bumpy journey with 49ers ahead of Super Bowl LVIII

Feb 7, 2024, 6:00 AM | Updated: 8:39 am

Javon Kinlaw #99 of the San Francisco 49ers jumps while running onto the field prior to a game agai...

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Javon Kinlaw has done a lot of growing up since he first landed in San Clara nearly four years ago. Case in point: How we started this particular conversation.

Listening to Kinlaw answer several media questions prior, I inserted myself into the conversation after a question about Javon Hargrave. And if you don’t know, the two players share the same position, but different pronunciations of their name.

Kinlaw’s first name is Ja-von, while Hargrave is pronounced Jay-von. Similar, but different.

So after listening to a question about his counterpart, of course the wrong name slipped out of my mouth. Kinlaw was quick to correct, as I apologized for the simple mistake.

But instead of being bashful and dismissive, the player shrugged it off and we continued along with the conversation. And that right there spoke volumes about his maturity after four bumpy years in the NFL.

Javon Kinlaw came to the San Francisco 49ers as a highly-touted first-round pick in 2020. Things didn’t work out as he hoped, suffering a torn ACL a year later after a promising rookie season.

Since then, it’s been an uphill battle back to football, playing off and on for 13 contests over the next two years. Each season he was shut down due to issues in his surgically-repaired knee. Those concerns reached SF’s front office as well, declining his fifth-year option.

Now in year four of his NFL journey, Kinlaw accomplished a feat he had yet to reach: Playing in all 19 games for the 49ers this season.

“Words can’t describe bro,” Javon Kinlaw said Monday, holding back emotions. “Ups and downs, highs and lows, trials and tribulations, it’s been a heck of a process for me. I’m just loving it man. When you look at the last two years, these guys getting into some of these same situations and I wasn’t able to compete with the team. It kind of crushed me but it helped me grind and know that I was gonna be able to make it one day and look where we at.”

The University of South Carolina alum recorded modest numbers during the 2023 season: 3.5 sacks, 25 combined tackles, six quarterback hits and three pass breakups.

To most, those numbers don’t pop. But for Kinlaw and the 49ers, his road to recovery is more than just production, it’s about progress. And that was seen in spades from the start of training camp.

“I told JK when I first seen him in camp I’m like ‘Why’d they come get me?'” 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave said with a smile. “He came out [strong] from camp…To see him now, he just been coming out with a chip on his shoulder and you can just feel his presence when he come in the game.”

Kinlaw stayed in the Bay Area for the entire 2023 offseason, determined to make his potential final year with the 49ers count.

Working both away and at the 49ers’ facility allowed the defensive tackle to get a jumpstart on the new year. And it worked, impressing everyone from Shanahan to Hargrave from Day 1.

“Kinlaw has been unbelievable,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said at the of 2023 49ers training camp. “Just the fact that he’s got a full year with no setbacks…As that happens, he just keeps looking better and better. Everyone knows the specimen that he is so now it’s, hopefully, that he continues to train and tie that to football. If he can do that and stay healthy, with the way he’s worked and the way his talent is and his mindset. It’s only a matter of time for him.”

That drive to not let the past haunt Kinlaw still motivates him today, feeling the crushing weight of watching his teammates play while he sat out with injuries.

What also helped him flip the switch was his surroundings, with both players and coaches paving the way for him to stay positive. That includes Sacramento native Arik Armstead, taking Kinlaw under his wing through the recovery process.

But it was the presence of DL coaches Kris Kocurek and Darryl Tapp that kept him grounded through work, and inspired him to get through the lowest of lows in life.

“Again, words can’t describe. Kris is like a father figure to me at this point. And Tapp is an exceptional leader. I see why he played so long in the NFL,” Kinlaw said. “Kris is like a real mastermind. I feel like he could plan a bank robbery if he wanted to, just that type of guy. It’s been great learning the game of football under him for these four years.”

In turn, Kinlaw has grown up through the process, now taking young 49ers DLs under his own wing. The most prominent is second-year DT Kalia Davis.

Davis revealed earlier in the season that Kinlaw has been his biggest confidant in the 49ers locker room, bonding through ACL recoveries together. But while Kinlaw was teaching “KD” the ropes, he was getting valuable comradery through the journey back to playing.

“That’s like my brother right there, I love that boy,” Kinlaw said about his counterpart. “It’s been awesome, just helping him continue his process, continue his journey. He can lean on me for whatever when it comes to injury-wise, he knows I’ve been through it all.

“He’s gonna be a spectacular player one day, the whole world will see that.”

His future with the 49ers, once this weekend concludes, is unclear at this time. But that doesn’t matter to Kinlaw. All that matters is enjoying the moment he’s currently in, feeling blessed to be playing in his first Super Bowl.

“I’m talking to you, but I’m still just like looking [around], it’s just crazy to me. I could have never imagined this. The circumstances, the odds I’ve overcame, I could have never imagined this. So, I’m just thanking God and soaking it all in one second at a time,” he said.

The South Carolina native is also relishing in the fact that his team is playing the media titan, the Kansas City Chiefs.

While the 49ers are favored in the matchup, many believe the NFL would prefer to see quarterback Patrick Mahomes and KC hoist their third Lombardi Trophy in six seasons.

Being counted out is nothing new to Kinlaw, determined to keep proving the doubters wrong by stopping Mahomes and Co. on the biggest stage of them all.

“Me personally, I always feel like I’m an underdog,” Kinalw said. “That’s why I go so hard. All my life I’ve been an underdog, so I’m used to it. We should feel like underdogs, we should feel like that.”

A lot has changed for the 49ers’ former first-round pick. Who, up until this season, had been most remembered for his previous beef with a particular 49ers beat writer (if you know, you know).

The narrative changed in 2023 however, going from what could have been, to, a consistent contributor on the NFC Champion 49ers.

And because of that, Javon Kinlaw wouldn’t change a thing in the last four years.

“Nah, because I felt like I approached everything the right way. I just was dealt a bad hand,” Kinlaw stated. “I’ve always been a grinder, I’ve always been a worker, I’ve always had the attitude that I’ve had now. It’s just [about being] able to show it at this point, the perfect time.”

Upcoming Schedule for Javon Kinlaw and San Francisco 49ers

  • Sunday, February 11th – Super Bowl LVIII – San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs – 3:30 PM PST

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