Former Lassiter, Auburn star Lutzenkirchen remembered for 'kind heart'
by Eli Boorstein
eboorstein@mdjonline.com
June 29, 2014 01:08 PM | 19462 views | 3 3 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Philip Lutzenkirchen in 2008 during his days at Lassiter. Lutzenkirchen, a two-sport high school star who went on to become a beloved member of the Auburn football team during its national championship season, died in a wreck early Sunday morning. He was 23.<br>Staff/File
Philip Lutzenkirchen in 2008 during his days at Lassiter. Lutzenkirchen, a two-sport high school star who went on to become a beloved member of the Auburn football team during its national championship season, died in a wreck early Sunday morning. He was 23.
Staff/File
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“A life is not important except for the impact it has on others.”

That quote was posted at the top of Philip Lutzenkirchen’s Twitter profile, and the meaning became evident Sunday through the outpouring of emotion following the unexpected death of the Lassiter High School graduate and former Auburn University football star.

Lutzenkirchen, a two-sport high school star who went on to become a beloved member of the Auburn football team during its national championship season, died in a wreck early Sunday morning. He was 23.

According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Lutzenkirchen died when the vehicle he was riding in lost control just after 3 a.m. in Troup County, near LaGrange.

Master Trooper B.N. Talley of the Georgia State Patrol told the newspaper: “The vehicle was a 2006 Chevy Tahoe and the driver missed a stop sign at the intersection of those two roads, which is more or less a ‘T-intersection.’ They traveled through the intersection off into a church yard. They were out of control for about 450 feet.”

Talley said the vehicle overturned, ejecting all four passengers, including Lutzenkirchen, who was not wearing a seat belt and “was killed at the scene.” Driver Joseph Ian Davis, 22, of Atlanta, was also killed, Talley said.

Davis was a student at the University of Georgia who had tried out unsuccessfully for the Bulldogs’ baseball team before the 2014 season.

Authorities say blood was drawn from Davis to determine whether alcohol was a factor in the crash.

The other two passengers — Elizabeth Ann Seaton Craig, 22, of Eatonton, and Christian Tanner Case, 20, of Dadeville, Ala. — were injured. Case was the only one wearing a seat belt, authorities said.

LaGrange is less than an hour northeast of Auburn, Ala., and about an hour-and-a-half from Montgomery, where Lutzenkirchen had recently begun working in financial services, and as a volunteer assistant coach for a high school football team.

Lutzenkirchen was a basketball and football standout at Lassiter, where he was a teammate of Hutson Mason, the record-setting Lassiter quarterback now at Georgia, in both sports.

The connection Lutzenkirchen and Mason — teammates dating back to their days as youth players — shared with one another was clear, especially on one particular play in the 2008 season.

On fourth-and-7 from the 12-yard line in a game against Centennial, then-Lassiter coach Chip Lindsey elected to go for it. Mason threw a pass toward Lutzenkirchen in the back of the end zone, but the ball began tailing out of bounds.

The 6-foot-5 Lutzenkirchen used his height to his advantage, leaping in the air and batting the ball with his left hand to teammate Reid Handler, who brought it in for a touchdown — and an appearance among the top 10 plays on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” that week.

Earlier this month, Lutzenkirchen sent Mason a tweet with a video clip of that play, saying “this was just two dudes who know (each other) way (too) well.”

On Sunday, Mason was in a sense of sorrow for “the older brother he never had,” he tweeted.

“My day 1 buddy. It hurts but I thank the good lord for our time and relationship. (Too) soon, but (I’ll) see you soon.”

Lindsey said he found out about Lutzenkirchen’s death Sunday morning, when he got a call from current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator when Lutzenkirchen played for the Tigers. Lindsey was on Malzahn’s staff in 2013.

“We’re all just shocked and in disbelief,” said Lindsey, who is now the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern Mississippi. “What was neat about (our) relationship was it moved from my being his coach to his friend, and we got really close.

“He was obviously a great player, but he was more than that. He had a kind heart and was very humble. He had his priorities in order, and he was able to make people feel good about themselves.”

Current Lassiter football coach Jep Irwin, who came to the school in 2010, a year after Lutzenkirchen’s graduation, said he would wait for the family to mourn before “we talk about building his legacy.”

“People are so sad today because he was such a bright shining light in our community,” Irwin said. “There was so much life ahead of him. It’s just sad, sad, sad.”

The effect Lutzenkirchen had on others was also felt outside the Lassiter community.

Jonathan Dwyer, a graduate of neighboring Kell who went on to play at Georgia Tech and is now with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, tweeted that Lutzenkirchen was like “a brother to me” and said “i love you bro and I’m going to miss you. #RIPLutz.”

Lutzenkirchen also played basketball at Lassiter, regularly scoring in the double digits.

Lutzenkirchen signed to play football at Auburn, and was a popular target of Heisman Trophy-winning Tigers quarterback Cam Newton during the team’s national championship season.

As a sophomore in 2010, Newton’s lone year as Auburn’s QB, Lutzenkirchen caught 15 passes for 185 yards and five touchdowns. He had two touchdowns in a game against Georgia — with former teammate Mason watching from the Bulldogs’ sideline — and one of the most important ones in the Iron Bowl game against archrival Alabama.

That catch, in front of a partial Tuscaloosa crowd greater than 101,000, gave Auburn a 28-27 lead in the fourth quarter, capping the Tigers’ rally back from a 24-0 deficit and salvaging their national championship hopes.

Lutzenkirchen also had a catch for a career-long 39 yards in Auburn’s BCS Championship win against Oregon.

Though a hip injury derailed his senior season, Lutzenkirchen completed his career with 14 touchdown catches, most for a tight end in Auburn history and the eighth-most for any receiver.

“Philip Lutzenkirchen was what every parent aspires their son to be,” former Auburn coach Gene Chizik said in a statement. “He was compassionate, determined, honorable and full of love, integrity and respect. In 27 years of coaching, I have come across what I would consider to be a few ‘rare’ young men. Phillip was certainly one of those ‘rare’ ones. He truly lived his life for other people and always found time to give to others. His family values taught him to be a great friend and teammate of everyone he came in contact with.”

Undrafted out of Auburn, Lutzenkirchen was signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Rams in 2013, but his hip injury lingered and he did not make the team’s opening-day roster.

“I’m saddened to learn of the passing of Philip Lutzenkirchen,” said team general manger Les Snead, himself a former player and assistant coach at Auburn. “During his brief time with the Rams, Philip was a consummate pro.”

Putting his playing days behind, Lutzenkirchen started a career in finance and was working as an assistant financial advisor for McDonald, Barranco & Hagen Wealth Management in Montgomery.

Lutzenkirchen also volunteered his time with the football team at Montgomery’s St. James School. One of the players Lutzenkirchen tutored at St. James, tight end Jalen Harris, recently gave his verbal commitment to play at Auburn.

“I swear nobody can feel my pain right now,” Harris tweeted. “I loved this man so much, he was one of the best things that ever happened to me. RIP Coach Lutz.”

Survivors include Lutzenkirchen’s parents, Mike and Mary, and his three sisters, Amy, Ann and Abby. Abby Lutzenkirchen will be entering her junior season as a soccer player at Alabama this fall.

“My brother is invincible,” Abby Lutzenkirchen tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Not only my hero but my best friend. Thanks for all the prayers and support to our family.”

Funeral arrangements were still pending Sunday.

Marietta Daily Journal sports editor John Bednarowski and sports writer Adam Carrington contributed to this report.
Comments
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Walton Raider
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July 01, 2014
Yellow Jacket, our hearts are broken over at Walton, too. What an amazing young man and fierce competitor. Philip gave us fits in football and basketball and our coaches and players had enormous respect for him. Off the field...are you kidding? There was not a finer young man. His parents and sisters are as good as they come and we are grieving with them over this loss. Not sure why they always take the good ones. Prayers and comfort to the Lassiter family.
Yellow Jacket
|
June 29, 2014
The Sprayberry Football Program sends our deepest thoughts, prayers and sympathy to the Lutzenkirchen Family during this tragic time. Philip was a fun player to watch and compete against. He made the entire Cobb County Community proud as he handled his business the right way and with class. He will certainly be missed by many.
Lassiter Fan
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June 30, 2014
Thank you for your kind words. Hug your kids today and let them know how much you love them. I can't imagine how a parent gets through something like this. Thankfully, the family's faith is strong and they have a community that loves them.
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