AUBURN, Ala. - The summer before his senior year in high school, Jalen Harris did all he could to attract attention from college football coaches.
"Back then, I was a prospect who had to earn a lot of my offers by going to camps," Jalen remembers.
Thankfully for Harris, he had the inside scoop, courtesy of his position coach during spring practice at Saint James School in Montgomery, Philip Lutzenkirchen.
After coaching Jalen during spring practice in 2014, Philip Lutzenkirchen attended Harris' commitment ceremony in June.
Lutzenkirchen, who became an Auburn legend four years earlier when he scored the winning touchdown in the 2010 Iron Bowl, had recently landed a job in financial management. Less than a year removed from a tryout in the NFL, he felt the pull to stay connected to the sport that had been such a big part of his life.
"He really taught me what colleges expect of you at camps," Jalen says. "He taught me a lot of knowledge. I remember LSU camp. He told me, verbatim, exactly what this coach was going to do. And when I got there, that's what they did. I got a lot of my offers because of him, and everything he helped me with and developed me. Those I can only thank him for."
Thanks to Philip's intel and Harris' hard work, the offers started to pour in.
Lutzenkirchen's advice? Go where you can play early, and where you'll be comfortable in case football ends.
On June 24, 2014, with Coach Lutzenkirchen watching from the bleachers, Harris committed to Auburn.
Five days later, the coach whose footsteps Jalen would soon follow was gone, killed in a car accident.
"It was unreal," Jalen says. "It was a tough time for me, but it made me grow as a person. It made me become the leader that I was at St. James and carrying over to Auburn."
During his senior season, Jalen wore No. 43 to honor Philip.
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) June 29, 2015
At Auburn, Harris played early, alright -- 12 games as a true freshman in 2015, mostly on special teams.
This season, his role has increased, primarily as a blocking tight end.
Finally, in his 20th Auburn game, against Ole Miss, Harris was targeted as a receiver for the first time. The result? A 15-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers the lead in Auburn's 40-29 win.
While Harris celebrated in the end zone, the Lutzenkirchen family was celebrating a friend's wedding in Atlanta.
If you've been to a wedding in the South during football season, you know how this played out.
"There were no TVs," says Mike Lutzenkirchen, Philip's father, a Chicagoland native. "I kept asking the girls to give me an Auburn update and a Cub update. All of a sudden our daughter, Ann, started screaming at this wedding. We went crazy."
A few months after Philip died, Ann, his middle sister, went with her dad when Mike spoke to the Saint James football team, and later watched Jalen's final high school game with Mike from the sideline.
"The girls kept giving me updates from their mobile phones and when Jalen caught his touchdown, our daughter, Ann, kind of screamed and went a little crazy, `Jalen got his first touchdown!'"
On the bus ride from Oxford to the Tupelo airport, Harris reflected on his mentor.
"Not when I got in the end zone, but when everything kind of settled down for me, especially after the game, I was thinking about him a lot," Jalen says. "I knew I was making him proud."
Jalen's phone didn't just "blow up," as they say, it froze altogether, overloaded with incoming texts and calls. Mike Lutzenkirchen was among the well-wishers.
"`Congratulations' and `I love you,' and `That's the first of many to come, so keep playing physical and they'll get you the ball,'" Mike says.
"Heard from Ann, Abby, Mr. Mike," Jalen says. "They all congratulated me. Thanked me. Told me they loved me. It's good to hear from them. I talk to them every now and then. I talk to Mr. Mike a lot. We keep in touch and that's the most important thing."
Mike, who travels the country speaking to students and athletes for the Lutzie 43 Foundation, will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday morning when Auburn plays Vanderbilt, with Jalen seeking his second touchdown.
One down, 13 to go to catch his coach. Philip's 14 touchdown catches are an Auburn record for tight ends.
"What I love most about Jalen is he's a big, soft-hearted kid, and he's going to be a great football player," Mike says. "But even if he doesn't amount to a great football player, he is simply a great young man. He is so respectful. Every time I see him, it's `Mr. Lutzenkirchen.' Just gives me a hug. He's not afraid to show his emotions.
"I don't know if it was 30 days, or 45 days, or 60 days, but in that short period of time he and Philip developed an unbelievable - not only mentoring relationship -- but a friendship. It was just two guys who gained respect for one another and loved one another."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) October 30, 2016
Congrats to @TheJ4L3NHarris on his outstanding TD catch in Ala-Miss All-Star game. Lutz would have been proud! pic.twitter.com/Ead4qva42x
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) December 14, 2014
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer