Philip Lutzenkirchen, the Epitome of an Auburn Man

Lyn Scarbrough

June 30, 2014 at 10:59 am.

Philip Lutzenkirchen's legacy will live on forever at Auburn. (John Reed-USA TODAY Sports)

When I saw the replay in November, 2008 I couldn’t believe what I was watching. A high school receiver had leaped high near the back of the end zone, made an acrobatic two-handed catch then pitched the ball forward to a teammate before his inertia took him out of bounds.

Touchdown, Lassiter Trojans! Play of the Day, ESPN! Hello to the football world, Philip Lutzenkirchen!

That was the first time I ever heard of the all-star tight end and I vividly remember the play, still one of the best I’ve ever seen at any level.

Auburn fans, Auburn opponents and members of the media that covered “Lutz” can think of their own first meeting or favorite memory. In such a short time, Lutzenkirchen became one of the most respected and beloved athletes in Auburn history.

Tragically, there won’t be more meetings or new memories. Phillip Lutzenkirchen died in a single-vehicle accident in the early Sunday morning hours in rural Troup County, near LaGrange, Ga.

He was only 23 years old.  Georgia baseball player Ian Davis, the driver, was also killed and the other two passengers were injured.

Philip Lutzenkirchen was uniquely Auburn.

Articulate and humble. Enthusiastic and loyal. Compassionate and genuine. He was the epitome of what it means to be an Auburn man. A proud member of the Auburn family. Most Auburn people never met him, but they all felt like they knew him.

I was privileged to know Lutzenkirchen, but not well. I talked with him several times and specifically remember an interview after the A-Day Game in April, 2011. That was five months after his high-stepping touchdown catch-run-dance in the Bryant-Denny end zone beat Alabama, and just four months after the Tigers defeated Oregon for the national championship. I joined Lindy’s writer and editor Matt Lowe in the Auburn football complex, putting together features for the upcoming Southeastern edition.

The conversation was classic Lutzenkirchen. He thanked God for his blessings during the season, praised his coaches and teammates for the championship, and deflected credit for himself. He did admit that it would be an honor to win the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top college tight end, but stressed that team goals were more important than personal awards.

One play during the 2011 season spoke volumes about the junior tight end. Auburn led Ole Miss by 17 points in the fourth quarter of a game where superhuman effort to get more points wasn’t really needed. But, Lutzenkirchen didn’t know any other way.  Quarterback Clint Moseley threw behind his tight end, who was running full speed in the flat. Lutzenkirchen caught the ball with his right hand behind his head, effortlessly switched the ball to his left hand without breaking stride, then stretched the ball over the goal for the touchdown before being pushed out of bounds near the stripe. You can still find that one on highlight reels. He caught seven scoring passes that season, setting the all-time Auburn record for tight ends.

Heading into the 2012 campaign, Lindy’s had Lutzenkirchen on its All-American team, ranked the nation’s second-best tight end. He “makes circus catches, blocks and comes through in the clutch” was the assessment. He was that and much more, but injuries forced him to end his senior season in October — which derailed his NFL dreams after a short stint with the St. Louis Rams.

There was no self-pity, no regrets. Shortly before the Draft, the Auburn icon wrote an open “Thank you letter to the Auburn family” released through First, he thanked his parents and three sisters. He thanked his athletic director and head coach. He thanked the assistant coaches, strength coach (Kevin) Yoxall, and everybody on the training staff. He gave thanks to team chaplain Chette Williams, “the most important factor in the Auburn football program.” He thanked his teammates and friends.

Then, he directly addressed Auburn fans.

“Most importantly, I need to thank the entire Auburn Family,” he said. “You all are truly the best fans in the country.”

With Tiger fans young and old, the admiration was mutual.

Matt Lowe’s son, Gaines, just turned 4 years old. A UAB communications/business management graduate, Matt is a lifelong Auburn follower. A few weeks ago, Gaines was at our publishing office wearing a navy blue jersey with burnt orange stripes and the big white number … 43.

“Whose number is that?” I asked Gaines.

With a big grin, he proudly told me, “It’s Philip Lutzenkirchen.” And, he even pronounced it right!

Gaines was born in 2010, not long before Auburn won the BCS Championship. He never met Lutzenkirchen nor did he see him play. But that jersey and what it stands for will be significant to Gaines and countless Tiger fans for a long time to come.

You’ll likely see more “43” jerseys around Jordan-Hare Stadium this fall. Maybe that number could become a tradition similar to what Ole Miss does with the No. 38 jersey of the late former defensive back Chuckie Mullins. This one could be worn annually by a deserving Tiger tight end, H-back or receiver.

It would be a badge of honor. Philip Lutzenkirchen was that kind of Auburn man.

His letter to fans ended this way:

“I do not know what the future holds for me, but one thing is for sure that the past four years have been the best years of my life. Thank you all for your continuous prayers and support. I love you all and WAR DAMN EAGLE!”

Thank you for the memories, Lutz.

War Eagle, forever!