SYLACAUGA – Mike Lutzenkirchen considers his son’s life something worthy of emulation among young people.
Philip Lutzenkirchen, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end at Auburn University, proved to be everything a father could want in a son. He not only exhibited incredible physical prowess, but placed great value on education and used his celebrity status to make others’ lives better.
With that said, Philip was still human. He lost his life in the briefest of moments in June 2014, due to what his father called a falling to temptations, when he decided to get into a car with a drunk driver, despite all his admirable traits.
It is a lesson the senior Lutzenkirchen has taken to heart, and something he tried to convey to students at Fayetteville High School Tuesday.
“Philip, like I said to my daughters, when they released the (blood-alcohol content) levels, you had the 1 percent of society that wanted to say he was a drunk, that he was this or that, and he wasn’t,” Lutzenkirchen said. “He was a kid who fell to temptations so many people fall to.
“So my message is pretty clear,” he continued. “It’s predominately about character, and getting back, and faith and doing the right things with a cautionary tale that says, ‘Even if you do all that, if you choose to do the wrong things, in a short period of time you can lose your life.’”
Fayetteville made roughly the 80th such speaking engagement Lutzenkirchen has undertaken since his son’s death.
In a roughly 53-minute engagement with students ranging from the seventh grade up, Lutzenkirchen talked about doing well in high school, getting a degree, paying it forward and creating a positive legacy.
More importantly, however, he talked about making smart decisions and resisting the kinds of temptations that helped lead to his son’s death.
It is a timely message Fayetteville principal Byron Brasher was glad to have imparted to his students.
“I can’t imagine the difficulty of speaking about your child after such a tragedy,” Brasher said. “And for him to come and be able to speak to our youth, it’s just an honor to have him here. We’re having prom coming up Saturday. I think this is a great time for our youth, to make sure they’re making the right choices.”
The students and staff who comprised Lutzenkirchen’s audience proved to be receptive to his message: Alabama and Auburn fans alike sought to speak with him afterward about his message’s impact on them.
For football coach and athletic director John Limbaugh, it’s the perfect response to a powerful lesson.
Limbaugh, who characterized Philip as his and his son’s favorite Auburn football player, hoped his students and players took Lutzenkirchen’s message to heart.
“To hear a real person, Mike Lutzenkirchen, who lost his son ... maybe this will resonate with them where they’ll say, ‘This is real. This can happen,’” Limbaugh said. “Kids are fearless, so hopefully this will resonate in the heart of some of them, anyway.”
Meanwhile, Lutzenkirchen will continue to allow his son to positively affect others’ lives, even if the message has to come through him. And while these speaking engagements won’t bring his son back, he hopes it can stop others from repeating his mistake.
“People say to me, ‘If you save one life …’ and I stop them,” Lutzenkirchen said. “My son’s life was worth a lot more than saving one life. But the net of it is, if I can get one of those kids in there … to stand up and say, ‘Don’t do it. I’m not going to let you do it. I know you’ll be mad at me.’ All of a sudden you’ll see a number of students making better decisions.”
For more information on the life of Philip Lutzenkirchen, visit lutzie43.org.