Becoming the best football player in the Big Ten is not an easy accomplishment.
Doing so after overcoming a nerve disorder suffered at birth is downright impossible. That is, unless you're the Jason Bourne of college football like Iowa's Adrian Clayborn.
Clayborn is the undisputed leader of the Iowa defense and the most electrifying player to take the field for the Hawkeyes since Bob Sanders. You’d never guess he had to overcome a disorder like Erb's Palsy to get where he is today.
The condition known as Erb's Palsy is caused by an injury during birth to the nerves surrounding a child's shoulder.
All of the nerves in the arm are connected to a group of nerves near the neck called the brachial plexus. Those nerves are responsible for feeling and motion in a person’s fingers, hands and lower arms.
When a baby is born feet first—known as a breech birth—excess pressure to this area of the neck can cause permanent damage. According to the website BrainandSpinalCord.org, approximately one per thousand births will have a brachial nerve injury, with larger than average babies being at an even greater risk.
According to an interview with his mother by the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Adrian was 11-pounds, 3-ounces when he was born. He suffered nerve damage during the breech birth that caused weakness and loss of movement in his right arm.
Clayborn underwent physical therapy throughout his young life and eventually overcame the limitations caused by the disorder. Now he is arguably the best player in the Big Ten Conference.
"The best player in a league makes the most memorable plays, and no Big Ten returning star made more than Clayborn in 2009," explained ESPN's Adam Rittenberg after naming the Hawkeye defensive end as the No. 1 player in the conference.
Last season, Clayborn recorded 20 tackles for loss, third best in the conference behind Michigan's Brandon Graham and Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, both of whom will be playing on Sundays this fall. His 11.5 sacks ranked him second in the league.
Clayborn was selected First-Team All-Big Ten and earned the 2010 Orange Bowl MVP award, among a laundry-list of other accomplishments. Rather than declaring for the NFL draft a year early, he opted to return for his senior season.
So far this year, he has been named to Playboy magazine's pre-season All-America team, the Lombardi Award watch list and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List. With several watch lists having yet to be announced, his name will likely show up on a few more lists.
Optimism abound this long before the season begins, but some think Clayborn might be a dark horse in the 2010 Heisman race.
That's a mind-boggling recognition when you consider that the toughest tackle of Adrian's life came off the field by conquering a nerve disorder.