‘He was a great man’
While the Auburn University family mourned the passing of former standout Philip Lutzenkirchen in a car accident Sunday, former Auburn football player and current W.S. Neal assistant coach Jared Cooper mourned the loss of a man he idolized and called friend.
Cooper, who is about to begin his third season at Neal, played with Lutzenkirchen while at Auburn. In fact, the two were teammates during Auburn’s 2010 national championship run.
By now, most know of Lutzenkirchen’s stats – 59 passes for 628 yards and 14 touchdowns, 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.
Cooper said Lutzenkirchen was the type of guy that everyone gravitated toward just by the virtue of being a “genuinely good person.”
“I’ve heard fathers describe guys as ‘the type of guy I’d like for my daughter to bring home’,” Cooper said. “I’m not a father myself, but I believe he would have absolutely fit the mold.
“When I got the news (Sunday morning), my mind naturally tried to fight it off for as long as possible, but reality eventually set in,” he said. “The first thoughts after that were for his family. He had great parents and three sisters, and my heart breaks for them. Auburn fans will describe him as a great ‘Auburn man’, and understandably so, but Philip was a good man by a universal standard.”
A visit to Cooper’s Facebook page shows an image of the pair while the two were on the video board during an SEC game against Arkansas at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn.
The picture has always been a funny one to me, Cooper said.
“I posted it not long ago (on Facebook), but a new depth of it struck me today,” Cooper said Sunday. “Phil was a guy who always kept things in perspective, and made those around him want to do the same.
“In the middle of a meaningful SEC game during a National Championship run, Phil made us all want to play the ‘don’t look at the camera’ game more than we wanted to play the actual game itself,” he said. “Sports are a great outlet, but things like enjoying life and those around you carry much more weight.”
Lutzenkirchen died in a one-vehicle wreck early Sunday morning outside of LaGrange, Ga. He was 23.
Lutzenkirchen’s fatal accident occurred in Troup County, just southeast of LaGrange, at approximately 3:06 a.m. Sunday. The accident happened at the intersection of Upper Big Springs Road and Lower Big Springs Road. The vehicle was a 2006 Chevy Tahoe and the driver missed a stop sign at the intersection of those two roads (described as a T-Intersection). The Tahoe traveled through the intersection off into a churchyard and was out of control for about 450 feet.
Police now believe alcohol may have played a role in causing Joseph Davis, the driver of a 2006 Chevy Tahoe, to run the stop sign. Lutzenkirchen was one of three passengers ejected from the vehicle. He was not wearing a seat belt. Davis, 22, was also killed. One passenger was treated and released while another remains in a LaGrange, Ga. hospital.
Cooper said much will be written of Lutzenkirchen’s death, but few will be able to capture the essence of the man his teammate was.
“Most of us, like myself, will be will be relegated to inadequately trying to describe the impact he had on each of us,” Cooper said. “As roommates in Arizona before the National Championship game, I watched him, more than once, mock his own ‘Lutzie’ (the dance he did after catching a touchdown pass against Alabama during the 2010 season) that people praised him for.
“Keeping a walk with Christ and being humble are much more relevant parts of life, and Lutzenkirchen always handled the notoriety that he received extremely gracefully,” he said. “Phil was also a man of faith, and made sure that the ‘seriousness’ of college football didn’t get in the way of that either. God makes no mistakes in who he crosses your paths with, and I’m thankful that I was able to share just a small part of my path with Philip Lutzenkirchen.”