If you had asked me before noon Monday for the definition of an Auburn Man, I would have given you a sarcastic answer about Cam Newton and his dad, which of course would not be correct. The correct response and one of the finest examples of an Auburn Man is Philip Lutzenkirchen, who was taken from us entirely too soon Sunday. To say our hometown of East Cobb, Auburn University, and the college football community received a sucker punch would be a vast understatement. It's the kind of loss that shakes a community to the core. I woke up early this morning hoping this was all just a bad dream. Tragically, it is very, very real.
To say Philip and I were good friends would be a lie, but that's the thing about Philip ... he had this incredible ability to make you feel like you've known him forever. East Cobb is a close knit community, and Philip and I were in middle school together for one year before I went to private school instead of Lassiter High. Lassiter kids, or "Team Lassiter" as they are called at some of the SEC schools, don't branch out much when they leave for college. UGA if you get in. Auburn, Alabama, or Ole Miss if you don't.
I remember running into him at the grocery store when I was home from school one weekend shortly after he chose to attend Auburn. Naturally, I gave him some grief about it, but he knew I was excited for him. You see, until the past seven years or so, Lassiter was not exactly known for its stellar football program. It was all about baseball. Bring in a former assistant coach from Hoover High and then you've got Lutz at Auburn, Hutson Mason at UGA, and Eddie Printz at Mizzou, to name a few, and people start paying attention. This play also helped get his incredibly long name out there. It's exciting for a community to see players go off to play in the toughest conference in the country. We all supported Lutz.
Philip was a goofball, always joking around and having a good time. Life was fun for him, and he lived it to the fullest. One of his favorite things to tell me was that he gave me the best birthday present anyone could ever ask for. What was this present? Catching a touchdown directly in front of the Alabama student section, coincidentally right in front of me on the first row, to win the 2010 Iron Bowl my senior year ... on my birthday. I wanted to be mad at him, but I couldn't. I was glad that if someone was going to get all the glory for the win, breaking my heart and ruining my birthday, it was him.
Philip is one of four children, the only boy with three sisters. Amy is a year older than me, Ann is my age, and Abby graduated in 2012. They are a family that radiates love, compassion, and goodness. That is one of the things that makes Philip's death so hard to comprehend. How could this happen to such wonderful people? Family was one of the most important things in Lutz's life. So when his little sister chose to attend Alabama to play soccer, I laughed at the thought of him saying Roll Tide. About that ... would he support her? 110 percent. Would he yell Roll Tide? No shot.
Volunteering was a big part of Philip's life. Most young people who are given a platform like he was don't take advantage of it. He did. Philip realized there was an incredible opportunity to give back. One of my favorite stories is when he took his best friend's little sister, who has Down Syndrome, to prom. He drove home from Auburn after the spring game, with a concussion, because he had made a promise to Casey. Her brother Kevin posted the article Sunday and it brought me to tears just like it had four years ago. Philip didn't need media attention for it. He did it because he wanted to. That's what made him special: his genuine desire to help others. Philip's character is a huge testament to his parents and the family they have raised.
Recently, Philip started volunteer coaching at St. James School in Montgomery. One of the tributes that hit the hardest was from Auburn commit Jalen Harris. The two haven't known each other long, but Lutz had such an impact in that short time that Jalen had this to say about him, "Thank you for teaching me a little bit more about life, being a man, and the great game of football ... I will do everything in my ability to carry on your legacy on and off the field." Notice that football comes last in the list of things Philip did for Jalen. I'm not sure any 23 year old has been able to impact a high school senior's life so profoundly in just a couple of months.
Right now my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook timelines are overflowing with tributes and pictures, as they should be. But none of them are about his talents on the field. They are about the person he was off the field. There are no words to ease the pain his close friends and loved ones are feeling, but it's important for everyone to know what a rare breed Philip Lutzenkirchen was. Sunday, Gene Chizik released a statement saying Philip was "what every parent aspires their son to be." This coming from a man who has coached thousands of young men over the years, but he nailed it. If people didn't know before yesterday how special Philip Lutzenkirchen was, they will know now.
If there's any solace in this loss, it is that Philip's faith was his No. 1 priority. He shared and discussed his faith openly on Twitter and with friends. He knew where he was going and walked humbly with the Lord during his time. Sunday, our community was left reeling and I learned the definition of an Auburn Man. Philip Lutzenkirchen is an Auburn Man. There's no way that my words could ever do Philip justice, but his roommate and best friend wrote this yesterday, and it's perfect.
War Eagle, Lutz. War. Damn. Eagle.