Dec. 21, 2009
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — How does a 6-foot-3, 280-pound first team all-Big Ten Conference defensive end get a frequent dose of vitamin C? If you’re Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn, the logical answer is by eating oranges.
“I love oranges,” Clayborn said. “I’m not kidding.”
Now Clayborn and his University of Iowa teammates will have the tricky task of trying to devour a potent Georgia Tech offense on Tuesday, Jan. 5, in the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami.
Clayborn was named a permanent team captain for the Hawkeyes after a junior season that produced a team-high 18 tackles for loss, 9 ½ quarterback sacks, nine quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. But his biggest play — one that UI head coach Kirk Ferentz calls the most significant during a 10-2 regular season — came during a punt return.
It was Sept. 26 at Penn State and the host Nittany Lions held a 10-5 lead early in the fourth period. On fourth-and-10 from the Iowa 47, Penn State punter Jeremy Boone dropped back in an attempt to pin the Hawkeyes deep in their own territory. Clayborn rushed from the right side, blocked the punt, scooped the ball up and raced for a touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes an 11-10 lead they would not relinquish.
“There were a lot of plays that people made over the year that could be better than mine,” Clayborn said. “It kind of changed that game around and our season around. People began looking at us like we could be a team that could compete for a national title. It was a big play and it was an exciting play.”
Iowa put 10 more points on the board after Clayborn’s score, which is officially recorded as a 53-yard punt return, and the Hawkeyes won the game, 21-10. They won their next five outings to start a season 9-0 for the first time in school history.
Among UI defenders, Clayborn is fifth with 61 tackles (27 solo, 34 assists). Clayborn and Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan give the FedEx Orange Bowl two of the top defensive linemen in the nation. Like Clayborn, Morgan has 18 tackles for loss with 12 ½ sacks.
“I don’t know much about him,” Clayborn said. “I’m not going against him, I’m going against their offense. My motivation is to try to keep them under 200 yards rushing. I know they have a great option attack and my incentive is to stop their offense.”
Iowa’s defense is ranked 10th in the land in fewest points allowed (15.5 per game); the Yellow Jackets are 11th in most points per game (35.3) and second in rushing yards per game (307.2).
Clayborn calls the pending FedEx Orange Bowl appearance the biggest football environment for him and most of the other Hawkeyes.
“We’re playing on a stage in front of a national audience,” Clayborn said. “It’s a BCS bowl, it’s a big game and we have to show up for it.”
As a sophomore, Clayborn started and had two tackles during a 31-10 victory against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. He is a model of consistent improvement, going from 20 tackles as a redshirt freshman to 50 a year ago to 61 so far this season.
“I haven’t quite made it yet,” Clayborn said. “I have to continue to work hard in the offseason and build on my conditioning. That’s what has brought me a little success so far.”
During the next two weeks, Clayborn said the Hawkeyes will study hard. “It’s more mental than physical,” he added.
And when it’s time for some rest and relaxation in Miami, look for Clayborn to hustle for the sand.
“I’m not sure what the events are this year, but if there’s a Beach Day, I’ll be there,” Clayborn said with a smile.