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Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn fled from streets to hold his own

TAMPA — When the body was found, his pockets were turned inside out, a cruel reminder of how they planned to rob him of everything, including his life.

Adrian Clayborn was only 10 years old when his oldest brother, Anthony, 21, was discovered in an alley near a dumpster in north St. Louis, gunned down and stripped of a pair of expensive sneakers.

"Allegedly, the ones who did it were his friends," Clayborn said. "That was it. We just didn't want that lifestyle. Losing a brother really snapped all that into place, I guess."

If you want to understand the Bucs defensive end, you have to look beyond the sturdy 6-foot-3, 281-pound physique and flowing dreadlocks that completely obscure his name on the back of his uniform.

In fact, you probably need to go back to that February day in 1999, when Clayborn's mother, Tracie, vowed that the streets would not swallow any more of her children.

• • •

Coach Raheem Morris was beaming about Clayborn's performance in Friday night's preseason opener, a 25-0 win at Kansas City. He loved how the Bucs' first-round pick out of Iowa was stout against the run and harassed Chiefs quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Tyler Palko, flushing them from the pocket.

"He's a tough dude, man," Morris said. "He's been through a lot. You can almost tell by his demeanor and the way he carries himself. When I call him the 'Alpha Male,' it's for a reason."

Morris started watching film of Clayborn at Iowa two years ago, after he led the Hawkeyes as a junior with 11½ sacks and 20 tackles for a loss while forcing four fumbles. Everyone expected him to declare for the NFL draft and go from poor man to millionaire in an instant.

But Clayborn returned for his senior year and suffered statistically, producing only 3½ sacks. He was still highly regarded enough to be a consensus All-American.

"I just wanted to go back and finish what I started," he said. "I was eager to go to the NFL, but it could wait. It was going to be there, and it's worked out pretty good so far. I think I needed to mature a little bit, not physically, but learning the game of football."

Since signing a four-year, $8.2 million contract as the 20th overall pick, Clayborn has been a quick study. In fact, the training camp joke is that Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn has never had to work so hard in practice.

"One of the strong points that I see in him already is trying to get him off that block on the run," Penn said. "He really holds his ground good there, and that's going to help our defense set that edge."

Clayborn's edge is the fire that burns white-hot whenever he leaves the sideline.

"He's not a big, emotional guy," Morris said. "He may suck his teeth, he may look at you differently. But he's just going to play with a certain tempo and passion, which is rare to see, but even more so for a rookie."

• • •

There are many prisms from which to view the journey of Adrian Clayborn. But it's probably best to start with his mother extracting her children from the battleground in north St. Louis.

Almost since he was born until he went to Iowa, Adrian's father, Richard, was in prison. After Anthony's death, she moved her three surviving children into the Shaw Park neighborhood on the city's south side. Crystal, James and Adrian were bussed to the Webster school district after she enrolled in the county desegregation program.

"I made a vow that I would never lose another one to the streets," Tracie told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April. "I kept them in Boys Club every day. They were doing football, basketball, baseball. My daughter was doing cheerleading. I didn't care what it was as long as they were doing something productive and not hanging out in the streets."

Adrian, who was 11½ pounds when he was born July 8, 1988, had obstacles from the outset. He was born with Erb's Palsy, a nerve disorder that weakened his right shoulder and arm when doctors pulled him too hard through the birth canal.

Tracie wouldn't allow Adrian to play football until he reached Webster Junior High. By the time he was 16, he was a man-child at 6-3, 240 pounds and a remarkable athlete who also played basketball.

Therapy and strength training at Webster Groves helped Clayborn develop into the 2005 Missouri high school defensive player of the year, earning a scholarship to Iowa. In fact, all three surviving children graduated from college.

"Penn asked me the other day, 'Which one of those arms don't work again?' " Morris said. "He said, 'He just punched me with both of them and they both hurt.'

"He's a different guy with hand usage with technique. He has different things about him, his inside move, his outside move, his speed rush, his lean, his anger; it's awesome."

• • •

Clayborn, 23, was all smiles as he prepared to leave Arrowhead Stadium on Friday, just 350 miles down Interstate 70 from his hometown. His NFL debut had been a success, the defense pitched a shutout and he knew he would have trouble sleeping with all the adrenalin pumping through his body after the 2½-hour flight to Tampa.

"My mother's moving down here, so she'll really enjoy it," he said. "She just kept me on the right path. I thank her for that.

"You know, it has worked out for me pretty well and got me here so far, so she did a pretty good job."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn fled from streets to hold his own 08/13/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 11:57pm]

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