Adrian Clayborn leads way for Hawkeyes

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After a recent spring workout, Iowa's four starting defensive linemen made the walk from the practice fields to the football complex, which snakes past the school's baseball field.

A game was going on at the time, and fans sitting in the stands took notice of the football players. Well, one of them, at least.

"Me, [Christian] Ballard and Broderick [Binns] were walking next to Adrian," defensive tackle Karl Klug recalled. "And everyone's like, 'Adrian! Adrian!' Screaming and stuff.

"We were just kind of tagging along. He's a recognizable dude."

The beard and the dreads make Adrian Clayborn hard to miss, but his play on the field truly makes the Iowa defensive end stand out.

"It's an honor for people to know who I am," Clayborn said. "It feels good."

Clayborn comes off of an exceptional junior season in which he earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, nine quarterback hurries and a very memorable blocked punt.

In a year defined by close games and dramatic moments for Iowa, Clayborn made several of the team's biggest plays. Whether it was dragging down running back Nic Grigsby from behind against Arizona, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown against Penn State or earning Orange Bowl MVP honors with two sacks against Georgia Tech, Clayborn always rose to the occasion for a stingy Hawkeyes defense.

"He doesn't really like the spotlight, but that's where he's at," Klug said. "People recognize him after all those plays he made."

Clayborn earned more than enough recognition to bolt for the NFL after last season, but in late December he said he would return for his senior season. He stuck to the decision even after his dominating display in the Orange Bowl.

His decision surprised many people around the Big Ten, and disappointed them, too.

"I figured with all the attention he was getting nationally, he'd get on out," Klug said. "It was a good surprise."

"It could have gone either way," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He would have clearly been a first-round draft pick. There was no doubt about that. I would compare his decision to Robert Gallery's decision. The thing that's surprising is that in this day and age, more guys leave than stay."

Clayborn stayed to correct "a bunch of flaws" in his game. He spent spring practice fine-tuning things, trying to keep his pads lower and expand his pass-rush moves.

Ferentz expects Clayborn to be on "every [preseason award] list in America," and after a year were Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh made defensive line an "it" position, Clayborn will garner plenty of accolades this fall.

But he earns the highest compliments from his teammates and coaches.

"No question he's the chosen leader of the group," defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. "If we had an election to send a representative some place, they would vote Adrian. And it's more because of Adrian the person than Adrian the football player."

It's never a guarantee that a team's best player will step up as a leader, but Clayborn welcomes the responsibility.

"It feels good, but it also comes with a lot," he said. "I'm up for the challenge. Pat [Angerer] left, and he was pretty much the leader of the team last year, so I'm going to try to take his role."