WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Clinton Solomon learned his leadership skills from someone other than a high school coach or an older teammate. His model resided right in his house.
"My mom fights for everything," Solomon said. "My mom is raising six kids in the house right now by herself. She has a lot of stuff on her plate. I figure going out there and helping my team win is nothing compared to what she's doing. If she can fight, why can't I fight? She's a big inspiration to my life."
Robin Solomon beamed with pride Saturday as she left the stands here at Ross-Ade Stadium. Her son, Clinton, just had raced up and down the field like an all-American in helping Iowa to a 34-17 victory against host Purdue.
That Clinton Solomon looked smooth, graceful and explosive excited the Hawkeye Nation. His contribution, however, reached far beyond his impressive five-reception, 166-yard, two-touchdown day. The most impressive aspect of the performance was his resilience and willingness to lead in a game where he got banged around like a pinball.
"Clinton did a good job competing; not quitting," Iowa quarterback Drew Tate said. "He hit a guy whenever I was running. He did a great job of just hanging in there and being tough and being a leader. That's what we need. We need guys that are going to be heroes, making plays, because the guy next to him sees that then he just plays harder. That's what it comes down to."
The day began pretty smoothly for Solomon. On Iowa's opening offensive series, he hauled in a 78-yard scoring strike from Tate. It was Iowa's longest scoring play of the season.
"I saw the coverage (Cover-2) they were in, and Drew read it and we connected," Solomon said. "I saw the safety. He broke on the ball. I had to reach out and grab it. It was off to the races after that."
After allowing early scores in their previous two road games this season – losses at Iowa State and Ohio State, Iowa's offense failed to respond. Saturday, Purdue took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown.
"It was almost like "Here we go again,"" Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway said. "The offense really picked us up."
Solomon looked as though he was going to be knocked out of bounds as he neared the goal line. With a defender launching himself at the 6-foot-4 senior, he dove for the pylon in a show determination and leadership.
These are the types of things that help you win a place for the first time in 14 years.
Just before halftime, Solomon showed that leading goes beyond catching and running by issuing a strong downfield block during a Tate scramble. Unfortunately, a Purdue defender rolled up on the back of his legs on the play. Iowa trainers carried him off of the field.
"We weren't sure if he would be back," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We thought we might be down our two senior receivers."
Minutes earlier, fellow starting receiver Ed Hinkel broke his arm after a catch.
"Hinkel went down," Solomon said. "I saw that that was a big loss to our offense. So, for me to be a leader on this team, I feel like I have to play hurt sometimes."
Solomon tested the leg by sprinting to the locker room at halftime. He returned to the lineup right after the break.
With Iowa clinging to a 20-17 advantage midway through the third quarter, Solomon showed that he's comprised of more than just flash. The Boilermaker defense flushed Tate out of the pocket and towards the sideline. As the quarterback stretched for extra yards, hard-hitting Purdue strong safety Bernard Pollard zeroed in on him.
Solomon saved his teammate from a potentially powerful hit by throwing his body into Pollard. The safety and receiver smashed helmets. Solomon rose up on unsettled legs.
"I saw it was No. 30,""Solomon said. "I didn't know it was Pollard. But when I hit him, he made me silly. It was a nice collision. Sometimes, you've got to do those things."
Watching Solomon deliver the block was inspiring. His reason for the act was refreshing and selfless.
"I saw Drew scrambling," Solomon said. "He's a much bigger part than me on this offense. He's our leader. He's our quarterback, our captain. If I see somebody chasing our quarterback, and it's up to me to make that block and put my body in that position to do it, I'm going to do it.
"It rung my bell. I got up woozy. Coach Ferentz told me to come to the sidelines. But…whatever it takes."
Ferentz lauded his senior's willingness to block during the Hawkeyes' 31-7 win against Illinois last week. Solomon concentrated on that aspect of his game during the off season in hopes of becoming a complete receiver.
While it seemed like his senior season was passing by at far less a production pace (12 catches, 189 yards, 3 TDs coming into Purdue) than 2004, Solomon and his coaches were pleased with his contributions. He held faith that eventually he would enjoy a game that showcased the receiving abilities that Hawkeye fans saw last season, when he posted 58 receptions for 905 yards and 6 scores in earning all-Big Ten honors.
"You can't get frustrated," Solomon said. "You've got to always take control. You've got to make plays in the run game as well. Last week, I know I didn't touch the ball as much, but I had to do my job in blocking. I have to carry on my blocking, and when my plays come, I've got to make them. Today, I had the opportunity to make plays."
Solomon need just one play to recover after colliding with Pollard. On the next snap, Tate connected with him for an 18-yard gain to midfield. Iowa grabbed a 23-17 lead when Kyle Schlicher completed the drive with a 21-yard field goal.
The 3-pointer started a string where Iowa finished the game by scoring 14 unanswered points. Other teammates joined Solomon in inspiring the Hawkeyes, but it would be hard to say any of them had a bigger impact. With Hinkel gone, he took the reigns of leadership for an otherwise inexperienced receiving core.
"Most people don't look at blocking for the receivers, but Clint really stepped up his blocking last week," Iowa receiver Matt Melloy said. "He really showed his leadership. He made quite a few big blocks. He's older. He has a lot more experience. He saw another leader, in Hinkel, go down, and it's his team, too."
Solomon pounded the final nail in Purdue's coffin with 6:26 to play in the game and his team ahead 23-17. Iowa ran its often-criticized bubble screen play with Tate hitting Solomon just passed the line of scrimmage. Left tackle Dace Richardson blocked out on the cornerback, center Brian Ferentz threw a crushing blow downfield and Solomon de-jock-strapped another defender before racing 36 yards into the end zone.
"I give that credit to the O-line," Solomon said. "I gave Dace credit for that effort, getting out there and getting that cornerback. I seen Ferentz down the field, that even made my eyes bigger. With the O-line doing what they did today, that's why we had great success."
As you can see, Solomon also blends a nice mix of talent with humility. He exudes maturity just a few years after being forced to leave the program for failing to meet academic requirements. He's come a long way, baby.
Even when Solomon admitted to wanting the ball in his hands Saturday, he did so with his team in mind not with the brashness of Keyshawn Johnson's give-me-the-damn-ball approach.
"It's not a selfish thing," Solomon said. "It's not a me-me-me thing. It's just I wanted to help the team win by any means necessary."
Solomon worried for a minute that he wouldn't be able to deal the knockout blow on Saturday. As the Hawkeyes walked up to the line for the bubble screen, his defender pressed up on him.
"Normally, (Tate) would check out of that," Solomon said. "I was looking at him like, "Do not check out of this play. Don't check out of it.""
Tate must have received the message. After the touchdown, Solomon put his arm around his fellow Texan as the returned to the bench.
"When we were walking back, he said "Do you know how close I was to checking out of that?"" Solomon said. "I said "I would have been on your ass if you checked out of that play.""
The group of reporters broke into laughter with Solomon as he commanded the interview as he commanded respect from his teammates and his opponents with his actions on the field Saturday.
In the end, Solomon still found it difficult to take much credit for the performance. A short text message on his cell phone sent by Robin Solomon earlier that morning probably clinched the effort.
"(It) said she loved me and I was going to have a great game," Clinton said. "The last three times she sent me that, I had a great game. I might have to tell her to keep doing that more often, My mom is my life. She's there for me." In turn, and as a result, he is there for his teammates.