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Iowa DE Clayborn's play speaks for itself

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Alex Mayster

amayster@pfwmedia.com
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Posted Feb. 24, 2011 @ 12:01 p.m. ET
By Alex Mayster

It's no secret that University of Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn was born with a deficiency known as Erb's Palsy. It's something he has dealt with his whole life, an issue that Clayborn already has overcome.

His biggest problem, now, is convincing NFL scouts and evaluators of that.  

"I'm sure it will come up, but once they see that it's not a big deal and nothing to be afraid of, I'm pretty sure it will go away," said Clayborn, who, at 6-3, 287 pounds, has good size for the position in the pros. "(It's just) the uncertainty of not knowing what it is and probably never of having had to deal with it in the past. I've been dealing with it all my life and it's not a big deal."

Erb's Palsy is a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the nerves, which most commonly takes place during the birthing process. That was the case for Clayborn, who grew up without full range of motion in his right arm.

But it was never a dramatic event for the St. Louis native, who, other than attending physical therapy sessions, grew up playing sports without much of an issue. He was a star linebacker and tight end at Webster Groves High School in Missouri, earning the state's Player of the Year honors as a senior.

However, it wasn't until he arrived in Iowa City that he really started learning exactly how Erb's Palsy was affecting him.

"Playing in high school you don't notice those types of things," Clayborn said. "You're just out there playing. I was kind of more gifted than the regular kids so I wasn't worried with it."

But Clayborn wasn't as superior at the collegiate level. He was stuck behind veteran players on the defensive line and, after being redshirted, began to focus on the deficiency. He sought the guidance of strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who was able to help Clayborn maintain equal strength in both arms and shoulders.

While Doyle cannot discuss any medical conditions, he did say that Clayborn is one of the strongest defensive linemen he has seen play at Iowa.

"He has vertical-jumped 40 inches at 285 (pounds)," Doyle said. "He has extreme strength."

Clayborn made an immediate impact his redshirt freshman season. Still listed behind more experienced players on the depth chart, Clayborn wreaked havoc in team drills during practices, creating problems for the Hawkeyes' starting offensive line.

Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski, who used Clayborn at all four positions on the defensive line that season, said the Erb's Palsy was never an issue.

"I can't see him being a much better football player if he didn't have that deficiency," Kaczenski said. "It has never, ever affected his performance on the field. You would have to go through four years of tape to show me a snap where it's affected his play."

Clayborn's bigger problem was adjusting form the linebacker position he played in high school to playing with his hand on the ground as a defensive end.

"Coming off the ball with your hand on the ground is a lot different than being in a two-point stance," the 22-year-old said. "It was different. I was wanting to come out of my stance like a linebacker to play."

It didn't take him long to figure it out.

Clayborn became a regular contributor at defensive end during his redshirt sophomore season in 2008, starting the first seven games of the season before suffering a high ankle sprain in a game against Indiana. Clayborn returned to the starting lineup three weeks later, but it wasn't until the ’09 season that he was really able to showcase his talents.

He started all 13 games that season, notching 63 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and tallied 11½ sacks with four forced fumbles. He saved his biggest game for last, recording a career-high nine tackles and two sacks in the Hawkeyes' 24-14 Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech, taking home MVP honors in front of a national audience.

"I didn't really expect to have as good a game as I did, but I think the whole defense had an outstanding game against a decorated offense," Clayborn said. "It was good to come out and have such a great game on that stage. I didn't really understand the extent of it because I'd never been in a BCS Bowl game, but it was awesome to win that game."

Kaczenski joked that he wanted to see Clayborn play well in the game, but he didn't necessarily want him to play that great.

"I was a little bit nervous," he said. "I thought after that game, there was no way he was coming back."

Rumors began to swirl that Clayborn might forgo his senior year at Iowa and declare the draft. With the momentum from the Orange Bowl, he had the potential to be a top-10 pick and possibly could have been the first defensive end off the board.

But Clayborn, who wanted to complete his degree, decided to return for his senior year.

"Football isn't promised forever and you need a backup plan," he said. "I think I got that with my degree. And I wanted to finish what I started. I went into Iowa looking to play until my senior year."

So the interdepartmental studies major returned to Iowa for one last season, had another stellar year, and was a consensus All-American. His numbers — 52 tackles, 3½ sacks and one forced fumble — were down a bit from '09, but Kaczenski claims Clayborn was better than ever.

"I don't even look at statistics," he said. "That guy is a great football player and he had a great year. He had a better year this year than he had last year. From the time this guy started playing in 2007, he got better."

As Clayborn prepares for the draft, he now has a complete résumé that speaks for itself. He is working out six days a week, both in the weight room and on the field, and helping his body heal from a season of hard work.

The Erb's Palsy didn't hold him back in college, leaving no reason to believe it will have any effect in the NFL.

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