24: Clayborn not interested in August praise
Aug. 13, 2010
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- In 1985 eventual first-round NFL draft pick Chuck Long returned to the University of Iowa to quarterback the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten Championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl. In 2003 eventual first-round NFL draft pick Robert Gallery returned to the University of Iowa to open holes at left tackle and lead the Hawkeyes to 10 wins and a 20-point victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl.
In 2010, UI senior defensive end Adrian Clayborn followed Long and Gallery with a return to campus, and expectations have soared throughout Kinnick Stadium and the entire Hawkeye state ever since. If there's a significant watch list, you'll find Clayborn's name -- including the Bronko Nagurski for best defensive player and the Walter Camp for overall player of the year.
Likewise, the entire starting Hawkeye defensive front four, including seniors Karl Klug and Christian Ballard at tackle and junior Broderick Binns at end, has been boasted as one of the best -- if not the best -- in the land. Instead of begging for comparisons to the Purple People Eaters, Steel Curtain or Fearsome Foursome, Clayborn gives that tribute a polite "thank you," but talk about us in January after 13 games, not before the season-opener.
"It's an honor. It's one thing to be noticed in preseason, but that really doesn't mean much," Clayborn says. "We would rather be a defensive line in January that people talk about being the best. It doesn't mean much right now because if we have a bad first game, people will forget who we are."
Blame the lofty expectations on a head-shaking, jaw-dropping performance Clayborn and the Hawkeyes exhibited Jan. 5, 2010 in the FedEx Orange Bowl. UI defensive coordinator Norm Parker's schemes and the Hawkeye player execution embarrassed a vaunted Georgia Tech triple-option offense to the tune of 155 measly yards during Iowa's 24-14 win. Clayborn was named the game's most valuable player after recording nine solo tackles.
"Adrian is one of the top players in the country," UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "With him being there, that makes us a better football team, not only in terms of his production, but our best players have all been good guys to be around and made everybody else a lot better. That's what great players do; Adrian is in that category -- he makes everybody around him better and he does good things away from the football building. That's pretty powerful stuff."
Clayborn had a slow indoctrination to the game of football because of a shoulder injury sustained during birth. The other reason he didn't play until eighth grade was because he was overweight as a youngster and the Pop Warner league wouldn't let him move up the necessary two divisions to compete.
"I was always a chubby guy; I mean I was 11-pounds, 3-ounces at birth," Clayborn said. "I was overweight as a child so I didn't get to play until eighth grade when there was no weight limit."
Clayborn wasted little time gaining ground in athletics (he was also a power forward in basketball). As a senior at Webster Groves High School, Clayborn was named Missouri Player of the Year after earning all-state and all-conference honors as both a linebacker and tight end. When he came to the UI, Clayborn redshirted in 2006 and learned from Kenny Iwebema (now with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals) in 2007.
"I'm just like every other Hawk," Clayborn says. "I came here and I grew as a person and I grew as a football player. I did it the right way and Iowa helped me out a lot."
Clayborn will receive a degree in recreation management with an entrepreneur certificate in December. His mother, Tracie, moved to Iowa City to help share the memories of his final year.
"She wanted to be closer to me and help me through my last season with all the things that come with the senior season," Clayborn said. "She wanted to be close and enjoy it with me."
The only game Tracie missed a year ago was one where her son provided a pivotal play for the 11-2 Hawkeyes. It was Sept. 26 on a rainy evening in University Park, Pa. Penn State was nursing a 10-5 lead with 12 ½ minutes left in the game. Clayborn rushed from the right side, reached out and blocked the Jeremy Boone punt, picked up the loose ball and sprinted 53 yards for a touchdown. Iowa won the game, 21-10.
"It's one of my greatest moments," Clayborn said. "I'm glad it provided a spark for the team and we got that victory. The ball was slippery so I'm glad it bounced the right way or otherwise I would have probably fallen on my face and embarrassed myself."
Clayborn's mother was at home following surgery on her neck. After that play, Adrian joked that she nearly needed a return to a physician.
"She almost re-injured her neck running out of the house," he said with a smile.
As a freshman and sophomore, Clayborn turned in solid seasons, making 70 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and four sacks. Last season alone he had 70 stops (36 solo), with 20 tackles for a loss of 107 yards, 11 ½ sacks, nine quarterback hurries and four forces fumbles.
"What can I say? It was a great year," Clayborn said. "It started out rough with those first two games (a total of seven tackles against Northern Iowa and Iowa State), but the Arizona game is when I really took off."
It concluded in Miami with a second consecutive January bowl victory, a game Clayborn calls one of his finest.
"Overall for all four quarters it was the best I ever played," he said. "I'm going to keep working hard in camp so I can come out there and provide even bigger support for the team. There is nothing guaranteed. I can't just go out there and expect to play better. I have to work hard in this camp so I can play better."
Clayborn & Co. opens the season Sept. 4 by hosting Eastern Illinois, a team with four quarterbacks in camp, but none who has ever taken a collegiate snap.
"I can't wait to hit somebody else instead of (UI quarterback) Ricky (Stanzi)," Clayborn said.
When that game begins, there will be 70,585 Kinnick Stadium seats covered in black and gold.
"It feels good to know the fans out there like me and the Hawks," Clayborn said. "Without those people in the stands every Saturday, Kinnick wouldn't be what it is."