This year, the team may still be uncertain of its style with new coordinators Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, however there is no question as to who the leaders of the team are.
Speaking at day 2 of the SEC Media Days, Gene Chizik quickly pointed out who will provide the foundation as the Tigers look to pounce back into the national championship conversation.
“We’re going to lean on guys like Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen, Onterio McCalebb and Daren Bates,” Chizik said. “It’s important for those guys to step up to the plate for us and continue to lead.”
In short, Auburn is relying on its seniors.
For Lutzenkirchen, he feels the team is more prepared this year simply because he came into this season expecting to lead by example.
Besides the frustration of losing rhythm as Auburn kept spinning its carousel of quarterbacks last season, Lutzenkirchen and the other juniors were forced to account for the deficit.
“Last year we were expecting a senior to step up and lead the team, and we never really got that,” Lutzenkirchen said. “Midway through the season it fell on my shoulders and Emory Blake’s shoulders and some of the other juniors, and it was tough.”
With 16 starters returning, Auburn may seem poised for another mediocre season to some, but Chizik contests that their youth underwent trial by fire and enter this season with a more battle-tested mentality.
Chizik pointed to their preparation and participation in the Chick-fil-A Bowl as proof of his faith in the underclassmen.
“I think a lot of young guys stepped up to the plate,” Chizik said. “I think that gave us some momentum as we propelled ourselves through the off-season.”
Lutzenkirchen echoed that mentality and said that he has tried to provide the same type of leadership that Cam Newton and Lee Ziemba showed the 2010 National Championship team.
“We’re just expecting excellence from the young guys,” Lutzenkirchen said.
According to Lutzenkirchen, potential starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier was not comfortable being thrust into the role of field general his freshman year.
This year, however, he and other underclassmen such as junior defensive end Corey Lemonier know they have to step up to make it through the ever difficult SEC schedule.
“It’s the SEC, it’s the big boy league,” Lemonier said. “(Younger players) have got to be prepared for that and go into practice with the whole mentality of winning every day.”
For Auburn’s football team, it’s not that they want more leadership.
They need it.
The addition of Loeffler means Auburn will be showing a variety of formations instead of just the spread packages fans became used to under former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
“We have the talent across the board to be successful at every position, but none of it’s proven talent,” Lutzenkirchen said. “We’re a multiple-set offense... so everyone has to know every position out there.”
As Lutzenkirchen sat at the microphone reminiscing about last season’s disappointments, he spoke with a fire that showed his desire to finish his career on a high note.
Lutzenkirchen has been promised a large role in the offense by Loeffler whose tight end led the team in receptions last year at Temple University.
But his desire to step into a leadership role extends beyond this season and into the future of Auburn football.
Lutzenkirchen has dedicated himself to helping future starters such as tight ends Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah and fullback Jay Prosch, sitting down with them whenever possible.
And yet, Lutzenkirchen has noticed a change in even the newest recruits on the team.
“It’s finally to a point where we’ve gotten the kind of guys in our program that will, when they’re young, come in with humble heads and just try to do the Auburn way,” Lutzenkirchen said. “Come in with a level head, compete and try to get better.”
For Chizik, Lutzenkirchen and the rest of the upperclassmen, this season is all about exceeding expectations.
“We feel like (the seniors’) leadership is key,” Chizik said. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
From the early reports from the players at day 2 of the SEC Media Days, it seems the team has been given more than last year.