By Kate Asbury Larkin
Philip Lutzenkirchen’s athleticism on the gridiron made him a household name, his bright smile and lovable personality made him a fan favorite, and his passion for serving others made him a hero. On June 29, 2014, a tragic accident sent shock waves through the sports world, leaving family, friends and fans to carry on the inspiring and powerful legacy of this remarkable young man.
No doubt, Philip will be forever remembered for his success as a tight end on the Auburn Tigers football team, especially the wide-open catch in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the 2010 Iron Bowl. He celebrated with a quick, high, leg-lift dance that instantly became known as “The Lutzie.” He will be remembered by coaches, teammates, friends and family for his love of Disney movies and his fun, lovable, sometimes goofy personality. But what he did off the field, away from football, is what made Philip the happiest and for what he would most want to be remembered.
It is hard to even fathom that he is gone. Philip made such an impact in his short time on earth; more than a lot of people make in lifetimes beyond his 23 years. Philip was truly one of the really good guys in so many good ways.
“It’s how he handled himself, how he loved others (including the media), how he would pose with anyone for a selfie, how he treated everyone with respect, how his head never got as big as his name,” writes Opelika-Auburn News Sports Editor Mike Szvetitz in an article shortly after Philip’s death. “It’s how he knew—no matter how great of a football player he was—that it’s what he did as a person that mattered most.”
Philip did things like asking Casey Carroll, a Down Syndrome teenager at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga. (Philip’s high school) to be his date for her senior prom; visiting and befriending Bailey Moody, a young girl battling Osteosarcoma (bone) cancer; or wheeling his buddy Evan Thomason around the team hotel to meet all of Philip’s teammates, just 13 days before Neuroblastoma took the 10-year-old’s life. Philip spent every other Friday morning with Youth for Christ sharing the gospel at Notasulga School and visited children in hospitals whenever he could. Philip just loved doing things for other people. Especially children.
Philip’s parents, Mike and Mary Lutzenkirchen and his three sisters, Amy, Ann and Abby, knew Philip was special to them, but they did not realize how special he was to everybody else.
“We knew a lot of the wonderful things Philip did for others,” says Mike. “But since his passing, we have heard about a multitude of things we had no idea he had done to brighten lives. I cannot even begin to tell you how many total strangers have reached out to us to share what Philip did for them or for someone they loved and how much his actions meant to them.”
Realizing they had to do something to keep Philip’s charitable spirit alive, the Lutzenkirchens have established the Lutzie 43 Foundation, a non-profit organization that will strive to continue the deep impact Philip had on others. The mission statement says the foundation will work to enhance the lives of young athletes and their coaches through leadership, charity, compassion, mentorship, hard work, honesty and faith development.
“We will also reach out to children, especially those who are suffering from childhood diseases, like cancer,” says Mary. “Philip had a special place in his heart for all children, but those who faced life-threatening illnesses really touched his heart.”
Philip’s good friend and mentor, Will Herring, who played defense for the Tigers from 2003-2006, then for the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints, was the first to organize an event for the foundation.
“In just a matter of a few days, Will and Auburn women’s golf coach, Kim Evans, put together a very successful golf tournament at the Auburn University Club,” says Mike. “They charged $430 per team of four, $143 for individual golfers and $43 for two mulligans; they even had golf towels made for participants.”
A merchandise line and additional events are being planned to allow friends, family and fans to be a part of the Lutzie 43 Foundation.
The Lutzenkirchens are working on a 43-step program to be completed by anybody of any age. Preliminary plans include a check-off list of good deeds and random acts of kindness that will continue Philip’s heartfelt desire to serve others. There are also plans for teaching programs for children, athletes and coaches.
One of Philip’s very last tweets on Twitter before the accident simply stated, “I know God is working, so I smile.” Those words pretty much sum up who Philip Lutzenkirchen was. And who he is. And who he will always be. Live like Lutz. Live. Love. Learn.
Contributions to the Lutzie 43 Foundation can be made at www.youcaring.com/lutzie43.
To contact the Lutzenkirchens or the foundation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.