By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - From the time Jay Jacobs entered Auburn's Wellness Kitchen until he sat down to eat, he conversed with student-athletes from at least a half-dozen sports.
A lunch guest asked Jacobs what he liked best about his role as Auburn's Director of Athletics.
"This," Jacobs said, referencing those student interactions.
Jacobs' authenticity makes an impression on the student-athletes he leads.
"He's an effective leader because he's an active one," said All-American defensive lineman Carl Lawson. "You see him at every athletic event, not just football. He has a genuine love for student-athletes and with his support, Auburn has been able to thrive."
Jacobs meets frequently with Auburn's team captains, seeking their input on how Auburn Athletics can better serve them.
"Jay Jacobs goes the extra mile," Lawson said. "He seeks out student-athletes and asks them what they think will help the college experience. He tries his best within NCAA regulations to fulfill those requests."
Student-athletes say Jacobs' approachability makes a difference.
"He not only communicates with and listens to student-athletes, he does everything in his power to truly implement anything and everything he can to make our experience at Auburn the best in the country," said Katie Frerking, the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women's basketball.
"What has impressed me the most about him over my four years is that he genuinely knows every student-athlete by name and always goes out of his way to ask us about our school work, our sport, or even just our day. He is the truest embodiment of what the Auburn family is all about and I am so grateful for everything he has done for both myself and for the women's basketball program."
The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics named Jacobs a 2016-17 Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year on Thursday.
"He is always wanting to hear from the athletes," said Casie Ramsier, the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the Year for soccer. "He wants to know about any issues, what needs to be updated, anything missing that we want. He is constantly seeking feedback from the athletes directly, not just through our coaches.
"He has done so much for our program. He has traveled to different cities to watch us play, given us the resources to succeed, and even helped us get our awesome new scoreboard this season. It's great to have someone like Jay who supports all the teams and is constantly working to make Auburn the best place for athletes."
Blake Logan, a senior catcher, remembers Jacobs speaking to Auburn's baseball team.
"He's really invested in what we are doing," Logan said. "What makes him successful is he really cares about student-athletes. He has a lot on his plate. For him to take time and to do things like that means a lot to us. That's what I think really makes him stand out."
Jacobs' personal touch was never more evident than on June 30, 2014, when former Auburn football star Philip Lutzenkirchen died in a vehicle accident.
"The first call I got after finding out that we'd lost Philip, which was at 9:30 on a Sunday morning, was from Jay," said Mike Lutzenkirchen, Philip's dad. "He was calling from Tampa. He was in tears and beside himself."
Friends gathered throughout the day at the Lutzenkirchen home in Atlanta.
"Our girls were outside in the driveway with friends consoling them. They came in and said, `Dad, there's somebody to see you.' Jay had come from Tampa to Atlanta to spend five minutes and give me a hug, and hug Mary and the girls.
"That's the type of guy Jay is. That's what he means to our family."
Jacobs authored a chapter in "43 Lessons to Legacy," the curriculum the Lutzie 43 Foundation created to help young people make wise decisions. For his lesson, Jacobs selected the Greek word paraclete.
"In layman's terms, it means `got your back,'" Lutzenkirchen said. "Jay will forever tell you that `Philip had my back, so it was easy to have his back.' What Jay has done for our family since losing Philip, welcoming Mary and our girls who aren't Auburn grads into the Auburn family, he's a special man to us."