By Sarrah Peters
At Rainbow City Middle School and Southside High School on Dec. 3, Mike Lutzenkirchen spoke to the students.
At Southside High after school chaplain Todd Clough introduced Lutzenkirchen, a video was played. The video was a memorial to Lutzenkirchen’s son Philip, an Auburn football player. The video was made by Auburn University and featured the record-setting tight end joking and smiling with teammates.
After the video, Lutzenkirchen began to speak about his son’s life and wrong and right choices.
Although proud of his son’s football career, Lutzenkirchen focused most of the talk on what his son did for others.
Lutzenkirchen told several stories about Philip making himself available to people, even strangers. He traveled home after a concussion to fulfill a promise to escort a girl with Down syndrome to the prom. He canceled a spring break beach trip to meet a 10 year-old girl, who saw him as a hero, for coffee. The girl had cancer and was facing the loss of her leg.
Lutzenkirchen also talked about the only time his son was disciplined in his career. He was late to practice and didn’t want to explain why. He accepted the penalty, to push a two-by-four across the field, before finally giving the coach the reason for his tardiness: he had travelled to Birmingham to visit children at the Children’s hospital.
Throughout the speech, Lutzenkirchen gave the students advice for life. Smile. Be available to others. Be humble.
Then Lutzenkirchen talked about his son’s death.
“I’ve learned a lot of things about what took place 520 days ago,” said Lutzenkirchen.
Philip’s NFL career ended early because of an injury. He was offered a job in Montgomery. In June 2014, Philip went to visit friends in Georgia. He had plans to ride horses and go mudding.
After a night of drinking, Philip and three friends piled into a Chevy Tahoe to get some dip from a convenience store. Although they arrived at the convenience store, the group didn’t make it back. The Tahoe did not stop at a intersection. The vehicle, traveling at about 77 miles per hour, flipped seven times and traveled 450 feet. Philip wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and ended up 15 feet away from the vehicle. Lutzenkirchen was pronounced as dead on arrival. The driver was also dead. The other two passengers survived.
The driver’s blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit. Philip’s blood alcohol content was even higher at 0.377. At an alcohol level this high, individuals have little understanding of surroundings and often lapse in and out of consciousness.
Philip’s father told the Southside students that he reckoned that Philip was really good friends with the people present. He then told the students that the difference between good friends and great friends is that great friends stop someone from drinking too much and tell friends to wear a seatbelt.
However, Lutzenkirchen did not blame others for his son’s decisions.
“Philip’s decisions that day, that weekend, were entirely his own,” said Lutzenkirchen. “He was a 23-year old man, very mature, beyond most 23-year olds, and not too many people could tell him what to do.”
Lutzenkirchen said that he wanted students to realize “that a series of small poor decisions can take your life.”
The statistics for teens drinking is 22 percent. For students in 9th to 12th grade, 44 percent don’t wear seat-belts.
With Southside High School coronation dance Friday night, Lutzenkirchen hopes the students make good decisions.