By Gary Lloyd
TRUSSVILLE — Aside from stating he was a college football fanatic, Philip Lutzenkirchen’s biography on Twitter displays a Jackie Robinson quote.
“A life is not important except for the impact it has on others.”
His life is proving to be important.
WATCH: Gary Lloyd interviews Mike Lutzenkirchen.
Lutzenkirchen died June 30, when a 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe he was riding in with three others crashed. The driver, Joseph Ian Davis, also died. Lutzenkirchen and Davis were both legally drunk and not wearing seat belts, and died at the scene of the single-vehicle accident, which happened shortly after 3 a.m. just outside LaGrange, Ga.
Davis crossed an intersecting road and impacted a ditch before traveling nearly 100 more feet and colliding with another ditch. The vehicle went airborne and overturned several times. Lutzenkirchen was ejected from the vehicle, and Davis was partially ejected.
Lutzenkirchen was 23.
The former Auburn football tight end is remembered for his off-the-field kindness maybe more so than his on-the-field accolades, despite hauling in the most touchdowns (14) by a tight end in Auburn history.
His father, Mike Lutzenkirchen, was at Hewitt-Trussville High School last Tuesday to challenge students and athletes with what he called a “strong message.” Since Philip’s death, his father has been traveling to high school and college campuses to ask students and athletes what legacy they’re leaving.
“It’s a calling from God,” he said. “God is just saying, ‘This is on your plate now. I’m watching to see what you’re going to do with it.’”
Mike Lutzenkirchen talked about how it took his son fewer than four years to earn his degree at Auburn University. He challenged students to take ownership of their grades.
He talked about how his son performed community service whenever he could, whether that be a short visit somewhere or taking a girl with Down syndrome to her high school prom. He challenged students to do so as well, noting there are opportunities inside Hewitt-Trussville High School.
He talked about the famous game-winning touchdown reception against Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl, when Philip’s end zone dance went viral. He noticed the next few seconds, however, when his son tossed the ball straight to a referee and celebrated with teammates.
“My challenge is you (celebrate) humbly,” Mike Lutzenkirchen said.
He said people should think about others. They should pay it forward. They should love others. He’d like to see people count how many “Thank you’s” they get each day.
Mike Lutzenkirchen read aloud “The Dash,” a 1996 poem penned by Linda Ellis, 239 words about the meaning of life being found in the dash between a birth date and date of death on a tombstone. Philip’s 23-year dash was short but “deep in quality,” his father said.
Mike Lutzenkirchen’s three key messages were to not drink if you’re underage, to not drive or be out after midnight and to always wear a seat belt. He said he counted seven “Click It or Ticket” signs on the interstate on his drive from his home in Georgia to Alabama. Philip was kind to all and loved by many. The mistake he made was a huge one.
“You’ve got to learn from his last day on earth,” Mike Lutzenkirchen said.
His final challenge to the students was to send an email to email@example.com, telling them to include what his talk meant to them, changes they’ve made or will make, how they’re helping others.
“This is going to sound arrogant, but if they can live like my son did for all but the last day of his life, I guarantee most of these kids are going to be better people,” he said.
After students were dismissed, Hewitt-Trussville senior kicker T.J. McGettigan, whose high school football career is over, drove straight to Jack Wood Stadium, to teach kids how to kick. He often does this with Clay-Chalkville senior kicker Patrick Millican. They don’t accept money for lessons. Mike Lutzenkirchen’s speech resonated with McGettigan, who had sat in the front row.
“His talk really inspired me to just be a better person, and the time I have on earth is limited and never guaranteed,” McGettigan said. “I need to take advantage of the time I have while it’s in front of me, and to use it to the best of my ability to not only help myself but others around me.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.