July 2, 2014
Philip Lutzenkirchen's friends remember him with candlelight at his memorial
By Charles Goldberg
MARIETTA, Ga. -- Mike Lutzenkirchen bravely talked about losing his best friend.
"There's a new tight end in Heaven. He catches everything," he said, remembering his son, Philip, the revered former Auburn player who died early Sunday morning in a car accident down the road in LaGrange.
Mike Lutzenkirchen remembered his son Wednesday at a memorial service and celebration of a life at Lassiter High School, where Philip was a star.
"Bear with me…" the dad said at the beginning, choking back the emotion. He gathered himself to speak of his happy memories of his son. The home side of the stadium of was full before the memorial began. By nightfall, in the closing moments, thousands lit candles to honor their friend.
"It speaks to the person Lutz was," said former Auburn teammate Kodi Burns. "For all the people to come out and support him, the people at Lassiter and the Auburn family, shows you the impact he had."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn flew back from his vacation to speak. Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs and athletics chaplain Chette Williams spoke of the positive influence of Philip Lutzenkirchen, too.
Chip Lindsey, Lutzenkirchen's head coach at Lassiter, said "this legacy will never be forgotten."
"The impact he had on us," Jacobs said, "will last us forever more."
"He'll be remembered," Malzahn said, "as one of the best players to ever put on an Auburn jersey."
T'Sharvan Bell, another former teammate, said it's been a difficult time the last few days.
"It's something so sad to lose somebody so close… a brother, a teammate," he said.
Jeff Whitaker was there, too.
"I lost my mom when I was 12, and I hold my mom on a high pedestal. Lutz is up there. He's close. He was one of those special people," Whitaker said.
The funeral Mass will be Thursday at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Marietta.
Lutzenkirchen played at Auburn from 2009-12, caught the pass that beat Alabama on the way to the 2010 national championship, and finished with more touchdown catches than any tight end in school history.
This night was about that, of bringing smiles of how he danced, or tried to, after the TD catch at Alabama. But the night was really about how Lutzenkirchen touched so many lives off the field.
Williams called the night an "amazing celebration of the life of Philip Lutzenkirchen, who does the Lutzie."
Malzahn was Lutzenkirchen's offensive coordinator for three years.
"He played his best when the pressure was the highest," Malzahn said.
But, again, everything came back to Philip Lutzenkirchen, the person.
"As a coach, you're not supposed to have favorites. But I believe, speaking for all the coaches at Auburn, Philip made that extremely tough because of the type of player he was, the type of person he was.
"He respected his teammates and he respected his coaches, and because of that, they both loved him.
"When I think of him, I think of a caring person. He truly carried about people. He made you feel like family. He also had more friends than any player I ever coached.
"Philip was a positive person.
"He not only made me a better coach, he made me a better person.
"Philip was a star, at Auburn or anywhere else, and it's very rare for people to stay true to who they are. He definitely did that. He was courageous. He stood up for his beliefs.
"Philip, we love you, we miss you and we can't wait to see you in Heaven."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine