Ziemba says ‘the call’ was worth the wait

The NFL call for Ziemba finally came late Saturday

Lee Ziemba had given up hope of being drafted Saturday.

He had finished a round of golf with his girlfriend and, assuming the draft was over, he started heading to meet his parents and grandparents.

Then his phone rang, with “a weird phone number” showing on the caller ID.

It was Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera. He wanted to know if Ziemba would mind joining former college teammate Cam Newton in Charlotte.

“It was a long wait,” Ziemba said. “I’m excited for the opportunity and I’ll do my best to be the best player I can possibly be.”

Ziemba’s call came about a day and four rounds later than he expected.

The 6-foot-6, 317-pound tackle said all throughout the pre-draft process it looked like he’d be off the board in the late second round, third round at the latest.

The Panthers used the 244th pick of the draft on him, the 41st pick of the seventh round.

Ziemba said effects from his knee injury in 2008 might have had something to do with it. Or just some bad luck.

“The second day (rounds two and three) goes by and you’ve got to fall asleep again. Then you hear, ‘OK, you’re not going to leave the fourth round. That’s not a possibility,’” Ziemba said. “The phone ain’t ringing, it ain’t ringing, it ain’t ringing that Saturday…I couldn’t have been happier (to get the call). But it was truly very tough because I couldn’t get my hopes up.

“You wait for your phone to ring and I’m lucky it did happen.”

Ziemba and three other former Tigers — Newton, Nick Fairley and Zach Clayton — got “the call” for the 2011 NFL Draft.

It was a bit of a surprise for an undefeated, senior-laden national championship team to have only four selections in the draft.

The average BCS champion from the past 13 years has landed six players in the subsequent draft, with Auburn joining Oklahoma (two in the 2001 draft) and Florida (three in 2009) as the championship teams on the lowest end of the spectrum.

Auburn’s other draft-eligible players get to play the waiting game, which is especially unstable this year with the NFL lockout.

In most years, it’s only a matter of time before a team calls an undrafted player and floats a free-agent offer to him, or at least an invite to a tryout camp.

But with the lockout suspending team activities for the near future, undrafted players have to keep conditioned and ready for when — and if — teams can come calling for them again.

Former Tigers Darvin Adams and Mario Fannin got their names out by being invited to the Combine in Indianapolis at the end of February.

Players such as Zac Etheridge and Josh Bynes have to let game film, tryouts from the pre-draft process and their numbers from Pro Day speak for them.

None of them really know what the next couple of months hold.

“Once you get drafted, you’re part of the team,” Etheridge said before the draft. “The only thing I’m scared of, or any guy who might not get drafted, is you can’t sign free agents, so you don’t really know what’s next.”

That’s why Ziemba was so relieved when he heard Rivera’s voice on the other end of the line Saturday.

Even though he can’t currently participate in any activities with the Panthers, he knows where he’ll stand when the dust settles.

“I’ve got a great opportunity now to grab a right tackle spot this year at Carolina,” Ziemba said. “I’m going to start working on my right side and hopefully grab a starting job this fall.

“I’m really excited to continue to play ball. I love this game, and it’ll be a fun ride.”

HOW BCS CHAMPIONS HAVE FARED IN THE DRAFT

YEAR         TEAM                 PICKS                 HIGHEST

1999           Tennessee             6                       LB Al Wilson (31st)

2000           Florida State           7                       WR Peter Warrick (4th)

2001           Oklahoma             2                       LB Torrance Marshall (72nd)

2002           Miami                   11                     OT Bryant McKinnie (7th)

2003           Ohio State             5                       DB Mike Doss (58th)

2004           LSU                   7                       WR Michael Clayton (15th)

2005           USC                   5                       WR Mike Williams (10th)*

2006           Texas                   6                       QB Vince Young (3rd)

2007           Florida                 9                       DE Jarvis Moss (17th)

2008           LSU                   7                       DT Glenn Dorsey (5th)

2009           Florida                 3                       WR Percy Harvin (22nd)

2010           Alabama               7                       LB Rolando McClain (8th)

2011           Auburn         4                       QB Cam Newton (1st)

* — Williams did not play on USC’s national championship team

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