When Mike Ziemba was a student at Auburn, sitting in the stands and watching some of Pat Dye's best teams, it never occured to him that one day he would be sitting in those same stands and watch his own son play in Jordan-Hare. Now his son Lee is a member of what may be the greatest offensive line to ever play football for the Tigers. With this Saturday's start Lee is poised to become the next Iron Man of Auburn Football.
Lee Ziemba came to Auburn as one of the most highly recruited offensive linemen in the country. He played high school ball in Rogers, Arkansas where he wore his father's high school number 73, a number now familiar to Auburn fans. His dad was a star high school player at Daleville High in the 1970's. The elder Ziemba's dreams of a college career ended in the spring of his senior year when he was diagnose with diabetes.
Mike Ziemba said that he and his wife Dawn (also an Auburn Alum) could not believe it the first time Lee was introduced before a game and they saw his picture on the stadium jumbotron. Now this Saturday, they will see him introduced for the last time in Jordan-Hare when the Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs and play for the SEC Western Division Championship.
The game will mark the 49th consecutive start for Lee, a feat that ties him with Will Herring of the Seattle Seahawks. Herring played linebacker and safety for Auburn from 2003 to 2006. That's nearly 50 games without missing a beat. The milestone is not that big a deal for Lee who said, "It's what you do during the starts, that's the big deal." Well what has taken place during those starts has been a pretty big deal.
He was a freshman All American; during his junior year he shared the Ken Rice Award with Mike Berry as Auburn's best blocker, he had 67 knockdown blocks, was second team All SEC, was ranked as the eight best player in the SEC by one publication, and he was an important cog in Auburn's offensive machine - helping the Tigers amass 5,613 yards, the most in school history.
This year he and his fellow linemen are on track to surpass last year's totals. They have already set a school record with five consecutive SEC games of 300 yards rushing.
If Lee stays healthy he will make his 50th consecutive start and become the new Auburn Iron Man in this year's Iron Bowl. What a fitting stage for him to become the new Iron Man - in the game named for Iron. The potential exist for him to reach 52 starts by the end of this season. A record which (if set) would surely stand for many years to come.
It's amazing that any player could reach this level. It's even more amazing that a lineman could. Football is a violent sport, and no where is there more violence than in the trenches where linemen have to do battle on every play.
Lee hasn't always been injury free. He played with an injured knee all through his sophomore year, postponing surgery till the off season. He was hurt in the Mississippi State game this year and was questionable for the Clemson game. But Ziemba, true to form did play. And he has started every game since.
Everyone knows that Lee chose not to go pro at the end of last season. I think all Auburn fans are glad he made that decision. Cam Newton certainly is, because Lee is the man that has protected his blind side through out this championship run.
I wrote back in July that,
"If Auburn makes it to Atlanta, the fact that Lee Ziemba chose to pass up millions of dollars to play in the NFL and stay at Auburn, will have been an important part of the reason they got to the championship game."
Now that Auburn is on the precipice of making it to Atlanta, that statement is just as true today as when it was written last summer.
Mike Ziemba believes that Lee's time on the Plains has been about more than football. He said "I think (Lee's) experience at Auburn has been making a good man out of him." But of course football has been a big part of Lee's Auburn experience.
And when Lee runs out on to Pat Dye field for the last time this Saturday, his proud father will be watching. Mike said, " I can't imagine that I would be any happier if it were me running out that tunnel."