- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Philip Lutzenkirchen’s words were prophetic.

In a video shown Wednesday on a large screen at Southside High School, in the moments before Mike Lutzenkirchen spoke about his son’s life and death, Philip smiled and joked as he talked about football at Auburn University. A standout tight end during his college career at Auburn, he set records on the football field.

“I’d rather be known for what I’ve done off the field than for the number of touchdowns I had or how many catches I made,” he said in the video.

The video was produced by Auburn University and shown at Philip’s funeral in July 2014. He was killed in an alcohol-related wreck in June of that year.

His father told hundreds of students at the conclusion of the video that he was glad to see smiles as they watched.

“I couldn’t watch it for the first 30 days,” Lutzenkirchen said through tears. “But I enjoy watching it now because I get to see my son and hear him talk.”

Lutzenkirchen said it is what his son did off the field that brought him to the school and dozens of other speaking engagements around the country. Southside was the 144th school he’s visited since August.

“This is about the game of life,” he said.

Lutzenkirchen said his son was a great football player even as a high school standout in Marietta, Ga. He said his son is the only two-time captain at Auburn and was the only player to represent his school twice at SEC Media Days. That wasn’t just because of his son’s talent on the field, but because of the person he was.

“Philip was a phenomenal young man,” he said. “He had love in his heart.”

He told stories of Phillip reaching out to others, specifically to a young girl at his high school with Down syndrome whom he took to the prom. He spoke of another time when Philip gave up a trip to the beach during spring break to visit with a girl from near his hometown who had cancer.

“He did not want to be defined as a football player,” he said.

Lutzenkirchen said his son had a gift and challenged students to find theirs.

“Go home tonight and look in the mirror and see if you see a gift,” he said.

Philip’s football career ended early because of an injury, but he played briefly in the NFL and put away a little money. He was living and working in Montgomery in June 2014 when he was invited to a farm near LaGrange, Ga., to hang out with friends for the weekend.

Lutzenkirchen said his son was excited about the weekend because he and his friends planned to ride horses and go mudding. En route, Phillip stopped and bought steaks for all 13 people who were going to be there, and a case of beer.

About 2 a.m., his father said, Philip was riding in a Chevrolet Tahoe - in the backseat, not wearing a seat belt - along with three other people, headed to a convenience store down the road from the farm.

According to media reports at the time, the Tahoe failed to stop at an intersection, slid out of control more than 450 feet through a church yard and flipped seven times.

Philip was thrown out, landing about 15 feet from the vehicle. On the accident report, his father said, he’s shown as a stick-figure drawing with the letters DOA - Dead on Arrival - on it.

Lutzenkirchen said tests showed Philip’s blood alcohol content was 0.377. The driver also was drunk and was killed. Two other passengers survived.

Lutzenkirchen doesn’t make excuses for his son.

“His decisions that weekend were entirely his own,” he said.

Lutzenkirchen said statistics show 44 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 do not wear seat belts and 22 percent of high school students drink alcohol.

He said there’s a difference between being a good friend and a great friend, and challenged the students as to which direction they would take.

He said a great friend takes the keys if someone has been drinking, or tells people to wear a seat belt.

Southside High School will have its annual traditional coronation dance Friday night, and Lutzenkirchen said it’s a good time to remind students about the dangers of drinking and driving or not wearing a seat belt.

“I hope I don’t hear that someone made a bad decision,” he said.

___

Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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