By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Robert Leff has appeared in 40 Auburn games in all sorts of roles. He's started at tight end. He's started at left tackle. He's protected the punter.
But Saturday night figures to be different. He'll run out of the tunnel and on to the field for Auburn's season-opener against Clemson as a full-time starter in the offensive line.
"It's going to be a huge moment. I'm ready to go out there and prove myself," Leff said.
Robert Leff's perseverance will have won the day.
"He's a great story," says offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. "He's one of those guys who stayed the course. He's been here for a long time, had a different role probably every year. He's probably a good story or lesson for those guys who maybe a year or two in at a major university and they’re not maybe starting right away like they want to. He hung tough.
"He really helped us last year, whether it be the roll, playing some tight end or maybe the injuries, especially late in the year, and did a nice job. He’s been a good run-blocker for us, and he’s a guy that’s smart. You can trust him. He’s playing on a different side, but he played there some last year when we needed him to. It's just a good story. I'm glad he's here with us, I'm glad we got him and I hope he plays to the best of his ability. I expect him to."
No current Auburn player has appeared in more than Leff's 40 games. Now, one of his challenges will be to slow Clemson's defensive ends. He says a month worth of going against Carl Lawson in practice will have him ready.
"Luckily, I have the privilege of practicing against probably what is the best defensive end in college football every day," Leff said. "It's definitely not something keeps me up at night because I go against Carl Lawson every single day. I'm ready for the challenge."
And so Leff's countdown clock is ticking toward his first full-time gig as a starter.
"I haven't been keeping count per se, but there are tickers everywhere," Leff said. "We have boards in our locker room and the weight room, so it gives you a sense of urgency when you come in and haven't looked at it in a few days. It definitely makes a difference."
Leff's third career start will come at right tackle in a revamped offensive line. Austin Golson has moved from center to left tackle. Xavier Dampeer will make his first start, and that at center. Trusty Alex Kozan will make his 28th start. Braden Smith will make his 15th.
"I feel very confident about the offensive line," Leff said. "All experienced guys and we all work well together, we've all played together. I think we're a very solid unit."
Clemson, last seen playing in the national championship game, will present a challenge, Leff said.
"I've been watching a lot of film, especially outside of meetings. Clemson's defense is very good," Leff said. "They show a lot of different looks; they show a lot of complex schemes. That's going to be interesting to pick up, but we have ways of dealing with it. I like their unit. They play well together. They all do their job. You never really see any guys on the defense bust. They're solid."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine