Ex-Teammate of 2 49ers Sees ‘Huge’ Opportunity in Going to S.F.

Deebo Samuel

Getty Deebo Samuel while with South Carolina.

In the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era of San Francisco 49ers football, the University of South Carolina has become a strong destination for future ‘Niners talent.

After all, Deebo Samuel came to the 49ers via the Gamecocks as a second rounder in the 2019 NFL Draft and has since blossomed into one of the league’s elite talents. The following draft, the 49ers took Javon Kinlaw in the first round to bolster the defensive trenches.

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Defensive back Jaylan Foster knows both former Gamecocks very well — having played alongside them in Columbia, South Carolina. Now, Foster is preparing to hear his name called starting on April 28 for the 2022 NFL Draft.

How does Foster feel about the prospects of reteaming with the man he once lined up against in practice and the defender he lined up with on the South Carolina defense?

“It would be huge,” Foster told Heavy. “Just going somewhere where they have guys that you’re familiar with, that would help your confidence a lot.”

Early Experiences With Both 49ers

Foster’s path to the draft hasn’t been labeled an easy journey.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder didn’t start right away for the Southeastern Conference university the moment he arrived. He also never began his career with South Carolina.

He was instead an under-recruited two-star prospect by 247Sports who started out at Gardner-Webb University.

“I felt under-recruited,” Foster said. “And I wanted the opportunity to put something on film my freshman year. I was blessed with that opportunity, but I felt I was ready to take that next step.”

That next step: Walking on at the SEC program. Foster said two former teammates were there. He tells Heavy he hit their phone line after a 2016 Clemson game that saw the Tigers thrash the Gamecocks 56-7, with Foster saying “I feel like I’ll be able to help.” Afterwards, he was able to talk with Gamecock coaches and ultimately transferred.

But his first encounter at the Columbia campus? Samuel himself.

“I was on scout team for a couple of years so I was always going against Deebo every day in practice,” Foster recalled.

And what was it like going against a chiseled, future NFL All-Pro?

“I probably got on his nerves a lot because on the scout team, I was really supposed to just practice,” Foster said smiling. “But week in and week out, being able to go against a guy like that, I may have treated it like practice but it helped me develop my mindset in a game.”

Foster, though, met Kinlaw before the defensive tackle arrived to the Gamecocks.

“With Javon, I had actually met him at a high school all star game,” Foster remembered. “So even then we had a relationship and we’re still very cool to this day. Just watching him grind, it was motivational for me just seeing his story, where he came from and seeing how hard he worked to get to where he is. Now I’m in this position.”

How Both 49ers Shaped Foster’s Career

Foster credits Kinlaw for being a mentor off the field.

As for Samuel, here’s how lining up against the future “wideback” for the 49ers eventually elevated Foster: He ended his college career as South Carolina’s leading ballhawk with 5 interceptions in 2021.

He snatched two from the sky against the eventual national champions Georgia despite losing 40-13.

“It was amazing. Just a dream making a big play in a night game against a top ranked opponent. It was amazing — you’re watching those games growing up and now you’re doing it,” Foster said. “I probably shouldn’t be smiling too much because we were losing, but it was an experience catching two interceptions in their stadium. I’m just thankful.”

Outside of Georgia, Foster was tasked with helping slow down two highly-touted receivers in his division: Velus Jones of Tennessee and Wan’Dale Robinson of Kentucky — saying both “brought out my ‘A’ game.”

Foster felt the “amazing” experience of playing SEC football as he called it. But ultimately, Foster cites Samuel and Kinlaw as profound reasons behind why his game raised another level when he was around both.

“Both of those guys played a huge role in my development, to be honest,” Foster said. “Even before Deebo we had (Stephon) Gilmore. It motivates you because when you walk around the building, you see their names there. Then you see them on Sundays and it’s like ‘I’m trying to get where they are.’ It’s big motivation.”

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