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With ‘scary’ rising talent, Gamecock veterans see the potential of a top national defensive line now & in the future

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With ‘scary’ rising talent, Gamecock veterans see the potential of a top national defensive line now & in the future

Feb. 07, 2020, | GCF Staff Report

South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw probably inspired some fear in his time in garnet and black. Kinlaw imposing figure, at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, was a beast of quickness and power ripping past and offensive lineman and bearing down on quarterbacks, which scared some folks. But what does it take for him to invoke the word “scary”? Talents of some of his young teammates, notably former top-10 national recruit Zacch Pickens.

Kinlaw had the following to say about his former teammates as he heads now into the NFL pool as first round pick. “Especially with Zacch, it’s scary; he can be as good as he wants to be. He’s crazy athletic, fast, powerful. Just got to take care of the little things. The little things is what’s holding him back. “Rick (Sandidge), same thing. Both of those guys can be as good as they want to be. Sometimes, I watch in practice, things they do, I just be like, ‘What the heck?’ It doesn’t make sense. They’re just young.”

South Carolina will deal with a changing of the guard on a defensive front that anchored success in 2019 on that side of the ball. Kinlaw, an All-American, is gone, as is defensive tackle partner Kobe Smith and top Buck edge rusher D.J. Wonnum. But the talent coming up is promising. Pickens was an all-everything recruits, a five-star defensive end who got up to 300 pounds and transitioned to tackle. Sandidge was the top recruit in 2018 class, a well-built defensive tackle with some quickness. Both held rotation spots last season and made impacts at times.

At the bigger end spot, the team has Aaron Sterling and Kingsley Enagbare, who were both solid-to-good players in 2019. Sterling had six sacks and sometimes bumped inside as a tackle on pass-rush situations. Enagbare spent time inside early in his career, but at his natural edge position did some good things with 3 1/2 sacks and seven tackles for loss.

 Kinlaw said. “J.J. has been doing his thing all year I’m really ready to see what type of pass rusher he can turn into, because he’s got it. He’s got everything you want.”

The position Wonnum is leaving is a bit more of a question. Brad Johnson has been a rotation guy since his freshman year, but never quite ascended as an impact edge player. Rodricus Fitten is coming off a redshirt season, and there might be some help coming in the freshman class. And then there’s one known product and a few more unknowns.

Keir Thomas was one of the more productive linemen on the team his sophomore and junior seasons, but the end/tackle missed all of last year after an ankle infection following offseason surgery (he got a redshirt and another senior year). Former four-star Joseph Anderson played sparingly last season and junior college transfer Devontae Davis missed the whole season with a foot injury.  Thomas said. “We’ve got a lot of young talent and we got a chance to be good. We’re one of the best there is in the country.” They’re all in the capable hands of second-year defensive line coach John Scott Jr. He guided a talented group to a good deal of success in Year 1, and has a different project this season.

And he left an impression on one departing senior. Kinlaw said. “I’m going to say one thing,” with a smile. “He talks a lot. He talks a lot and you just want to soak it all in, because it’s nothing wrong. Everything he coaches, you can see it out there hand-placement, fighting double-teams, things like that. I appreciate him for everything he’s taught me.”

The group is also in line to get three freshmen in three-star tackle Makius Scott, who already signed, plus four-star tackle Alex Huntley and five-star Jordan Burch. The latter two have not signed yet, and other schools will likely be trying to apply some pressure. And it’s always difficult for defensive linemen in their first years of college. Replacing a group such as Smith, Wonnum, Kinlaw and Daniel Fennell, that is never easy. But there’s talent there to be sure, and a level of faith from those moving on.

Kinlaw said. “They’re going to hold it down; they’re going to know what to do when their time comes. They’re just young right now. Look at me when I was young. I didn’t know it all. I didn’t play as fast as I do now. It just takes time. They need time to develop. Them having to play early, it’s better, because — honestly, me playing so early, it helped a lot, just developing while you‘re playing. The more they play, the more they just lock-in and buy into the program, they’re going to be all right.”

Stars of the future just signed to join what already is a young and much talented defensive line group include 5-star Jordan Burch, 4-star Alex Huntley, 4-star Tonka Hemingway & 3-star Makius Scott. All said and done the defensive line now and the future are lined like stars to shine.

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