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A spirit that is not afraid

Lew, Miller look to lead way for offensive line

Auburn center Conner Lew (75) waiting to snap ball in game against New Mexico State in Jordan-Hair Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023.
Auburn center Conner Lew (75) waiting to snap ball in game against New Mexico State in Jordan-Hair Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023.

In Hugh Freeze’s first few days at Auburn it became apparent that the offensive line would have to be an immediate point of emphasis for his staff in a hyper-rushed 24 days until the early signing period for the 2023 high school recruiting class. 

In the prior two classes, Auburn signed just three offensive lineman. Of the three signees, Colby Smith and Garner Langlo in 2021 and Eston Harris Jr. in 2022, Smith and Langlo are no longer with the program and Harris Jr. has played just 13 snaps in his career – all in the closing moments of a few games last season. 

So with a noticeable lack of recruitment and retention, Freeze and offensive line coach Jake Thornton went to work signing four players from the high school ranks, five transfer portal targets and one junior college commit to transform the position group prior to last season.

While Auburn utilized its offseason additions to fill four of the five primary starting roles on the offensive line during the 2023 season, with three starters running out of eligibility it’s now time for the Tigers’ talented underclassman to take the reins of the position group. 

Fortunately for Freeze and Thornton, Connor Lew and Izavion Miller found themselves in key roles a season ago and will be the anchor of the group in 2024. 

“Now being the starting center, you're in charge of that room. You have to get it on every play. You have to get everybody on the same page. On the field, I'm being challenged as a leader, but also off the field. So, just embracing that challenge,” Lew said of his new role.

Lew was thrust into the starting role when Avery Jones was injured midway through the Ole Miss game and ended the 2023 season with 435 total snaps and six straight starts.

“Definitely the speed of the game,” Lew said of the biggest adjustment from high school to SEC play. “Coming into my second spring, it's starting to slow down a little bit. So I'm able to go back and learn the details…So just kind of getting thrown into the fire a little bit.”

Spring practices are all about learning, and while Lew will certainly continue to develop his game in the trenches, he'll also work on his expanded role as an underclassman leader of Auburn’s 2024 team. And for Lew, the guy he looks up to as a leader just so happens to be the same one he snaps to. 

“His leadership is really contagious,” Lew said of fellow teammate and quarterback Payton Thorne. “I think that's the biggest part of being at center that's kind of rubbed off on me. He's just a vocal leader. So he's someone I've been looking at to model and learn how to lead from as well. So that kind of stuff has been contagious, and it's helped me.”

But Lew isn’t alone leading the offensive line. He'll have a familiar face by him in Miller – who's going into his senior year. Last season, Miller started all 13 games for the Tigers, totaling 613 total snaps – the second most returning from 2023.

“I thought I did pretty good actually,” Miller said of his performance last season. “I wasn't coming in expecting to start, but it got drilled to me soon that I need to get it going. So I started getting on and I haven’t stopped yet.”

“Too Tall,” as he’s been called by his teammates, was complementary of several others on the offensive line – stating that the group was "much stronger" but no one caught as glowing of a praise as Lew.

“Connor is gonna be great. As a freshman, he was great. Right now, he's great. He knows every play. He calls all the calls. He knows everything. And he's so young. Yeah, he's gonna be great,” Miller said. 

Miller and Lew will link up with others to pave the way for the offense this fall, but for now, the most important thing the duo does might just be leading the way for the position group in the early parts of the offseason.

“I was interested to see how it was going to all work out in the spring, but I've been pleasantly surprised with how well we've been able to connect on and off the field. And with how successful we have been able to connect off the field that's definitely contributed to the field. So, I'm happy with where we're at right now, as long as we just keep stacking days,” Lew said.

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