As we continue our march to kickoff, we take a look at the top 100 recruits to sign with Auburn of all-time*. The rankings are based on 247’s composite recruit rankings, which unfortunately only date back to 2000.
“Ziemba just eats up what’s ever in front of him. First of all, he has great size and can really move. Ziemba is quick off the ball and can block on the move. He has a good lower body and finishes his blocks. Ziemba is equally effective in the passing game. He has as much upside at this position as any offensive linemen in the nation. With his frame and athletic ability, there’s no telling how big and how good this kid can become in college.” - 247 Sports
When you’re 6’7” and 295 lbs coming out of high school, you can just about pick where you want to play college football. And when you’re as good as Lee Ziemba, you become a top 50 national recruit and the highest rated recruit in your state. With offers from Michigan, Nebraska, Arkansas, and several others, Ziemba ultimately decided on signing with Auburn and Arkansas-native head coach Tommy Tuberville.
“Auburn struggled to start the 2007 season. After the humiliating home loss to Mississippi State, the story goes that OL coach Hugh Nall asked Tommy Tuberville if he wanted to redshirt two of those freshmen (Lee Ziemba had already earned a starting spot), or if he wanted to play the best 5 offensive linemen they had. After pulling those redshirts, (Chaz) Ramsey and Ryan Pugh were plugged into the starting lineup and helped stabilize an offense that was threatening to go off the rails. After a 1-2 start, Auburn would win 8 of their final 10 games behind those young linemen.” - AU_Jonesy
Along with Ramsey and Pugh, Ziemba was the third major and highest ranked offensive line class for Auburn in 2007, which was going to have to help replace four starting lineman from the 2006 team. As Jonesy relayed in the story above, Ziemba was able to win the right tackle job out of camp, a testament to the true freshman’s ability and the lack of returning experience. There were obvious struggles, as there would be for any true freshman on the offensive line, but during the season Ziemba would move to left tackle and take over for senior King Dunlap.
As ugly and inconsistent as the 2007 offense was, 2008 was even worse. The three headed running back core of Ben Tate, Mario Fannin, and Brad Lester all saw their yards per carry drop, and a maddening but productive Brandon Cox was replaced by the just maddening combination of Kodi Burns and an injured Chris Todd. But the young offensive line led by Ziemba continued to grow, and I like to think the struggles of 2008 helped pave the way for the next two seasons.
Ziemba again started every game for the Tigers in 2009, when Gus Malzahn turned what was a mostly dismal offense in 2008 into one of the most improved in the country in just one offseason. The 2009 offense was particularly balanced, with Chris Todd breaking passing records and Ben Tate kicking off the streak of 1,000 yard rushers for Auburn. Malzahn was able to execute the offense in this manner largely due to the talent of his left tackle, who was just as good in pass protection as he was lead blocking.
After 2009, Ziemba could have gone to the NFL Draft. He’s been on record as saying his draft projection was pretty high, though the feedback he received was that he needed to work on his technique the most. Zeimba said his dad helped convince him to come back.
“He brought to my attention some things that I hadn’t quite reached my goals that I set,” Ziemba said. “Yes, I played a lot of games here. Yes, I was good enough to make second-team All-SEC. Those are great things. However, it’s not the ultimate goal. In order for me to reach those goals, he brought to my attention that I needed to correct some mistakes that I was making and be more consistent.”
With the veteran tackle on board for 2010, he helped lead the way for the best college quarterback of all time. Ziemba was also a team captain for the national title winners, and oicked up an All-American nod along with the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, awarded to the best blocker in the SEC.
Oh, and did we mention he set the record for most starts at any position in Auburn history? That’ll happen when you start all 52 games played in a four year span.
For whatever reason, Ziemba didn’t stand out in the NFL Draft evaluation process. He fell all the way to the 7th round of the 2011 Draft, where he was taken by the Panthers. He played in six games across two seasons in Charlotte, and retired after spending the 2013 season with the Colts.
The Ziemba name popped up again in 2016, but this time it was for a different reason. Lee and his wife Brittney’s infant son, Eli, was a finalist for to be a Gerber baby for 2017, though I don’t believe it ever happened.
According to Brittney, “Cam Newton texted Lee and said, ‘Man, that baby is too pretty to be an offensive lineman. I’m going to teach him to play quarterback’”.