War Eagle Extra

Lutzenkirchen remembered as friendly, fun-loving at candlelight memorial

MARIETTA, Ga. -- It didn't take long for Chip Lindsey to realize Philip Lutzenkirchen was different.

In his first day on the job at Lassiter High School in 2008, the head football coach was approached by his new player. Lutzenkirchen broke the ice instantaneously.

"His first words to me were, 'Hey big guy, you ready to win some games?'" Lindsey recalled. "I said, 'Wow, this guy is confident. I like that.'"

It was one of the many characteristics Lindsey and others cherished about 23-year-old Lutzenkirchen, who died in a car wreck early Sunday morning outside LaGrange, Ga. The former tight end for the Auburn University Tigers was one of the most popular players in recent history.

The crash also claimed the life of the driver, 22-year-old Joseph Ian Davis.

Lindsey was one of four guest speakers at Lutzenkirchen's memorial service Wednesday night at Frank Fillman Stadium, the same field where the Lassiter High School alum starred on fall Fridays less than five years ago.

Mike Lutzenkirchen, Philip's father, spoke for more than 10 minutes, thanking those who had been there for the family during this difficult time, from Philip's former teammates to his friends from elementary school.

But he reserved the highest praise for his late son.

"Sunday morning, I wouldn't have had the strength to be up here, but those of you who know me know who my son is," Mike Lutzenkirchen said, "and he's giving me strength to come up here tonight."

That ability to embolden others was a common theme. Each of the four speakers touched on Phillip Lutzenkirchen's outgoing personality. Sure, uplifting your teammates is a characteristic many players possess, but what surprised Gus Malzahn was that Lutzenkirchen could do the same for him.

"He just always seemed to know when I was down," said the Auburn coach, who served as the Tigers' offensive coordinator from 2009-11, making Lutzenkirchen one of his first recruits. "He would text me at just the right time."

Beyond the framework of his own team, Lutzenkirchen found common ground everywhere.

"He probably had more friends than any player I've ever coached," Malzahn said. " ... It always blew my mind that he had the time outside of football to develop the relationships that he did."

That's why it should come as no surprise that when Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs held a meeting with the football team Monday to discuss Lutzenkirchen's death, one word couldn't encompass what the former tight end meant to them.

"Happy" was one term that surfaced.

"Relentless" was another. As were "dedicated," "loyal" and "determined."

That outpouring of respect only bolstered Jacobs' respect for Lutzenkirchen.

"I am so blessed to have been one of those people who knew him well," Jacobs said. "To see over the last few days the outpouring of love that has come from not just the Auburn family, but from across the nation has been amazing."

During Lutzenkirchen career, he caught 59 passes for 628 yards and 14 touchdowns. His 14 touchdowns are the most in school history for a tight end, while his seven scores in 2011 set a single-season school record for the position.

But it is the pass he caught from Cam Newton in the 2010 Iron Bowl that fans remember the most. It capped a furious rally from 24 points down as the Tigers upended their rivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Lutzenkirchen's father said the feedback from fans has meant every bit as much to his family. Though he's no longer here, Mike Lutzenkirchen had "no doubt" his son had gone to a better place.

And in doing so, his son had joined a new, eternal team.

"There's a new tight end in Heaven," Mike said. "He catches everything."