AUBURN, Ala. — Dining with his dad at The Hound on Friday night, Philip Lutzenkirchen was approached by a 50-ish woman, an Auburn fan who wanted to offer Lutzenkirchen her thanks for all the good things he’s done for the university — both on and off the football field.
“To me, it’s just, I play football,” Lutzenkirchen said, “and I’ve tried to live the right way and live how my parents raised me to put others first. It was very humbling and just awesome for someone to come up and say that to me.”
Lutzenkirchen is never quite sure how to handle the admiration, but he’s gotten used to it during a four-year ride as a Tigers tight end and fan favorite.
A guy who has never made it all about him has no other choice at this point. After undergoing season-ending hip surgery in late October — truncating his senior year and college eligibility — Lutzenkirchen faces three arduous months of rehabilitation in hopes of participating in the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and possibly a professional career.
“I think for me the most important thing right now is to make sure I get back to 100 percent,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s my goal to be playing in one of those games come late January, but if I’m only 95 percent, I’m going to have to say no to it.”
Auburn’s all-time leading touchdown receiver among tight ends spoke with reporters Tuesday for the first time since the surgery, walking into the interview room without the support of crutches or a cane.
“I’ve had to step back from football and look at my future, not just hopefully playing at the next level, but even just trying to go throughout life without having a hip replacement,” Lutzenkirchen said.
He shared the dirty details of his long-standing injury, which first cropped up in two-a-days before the 2011 season on Auburn’s new indoor turf. Ultimately, Lutzenkirchen was playing with a torn labrum with three bone spurs floating around in his left hip.
“Whenever I was playing or walking, I could feel the labrum catching onto bone spurs and tearing a little bit each time. Certain positions, like my three-point stance, I could feel it a lot when I squatted down,” Lutzenkirchen said. “The doctors pretty much said if I didn’t get it fixed and kept playing on it, the bones were rubbing together and I probably would have had to have a hip replacement before I was 25 or 30.”
The injury became too much to bear after the Ole Miss game Oct. 13. He just got his stitches out from the surgery, which means he can start on the underwater treadmill and begin swimming in rehab.
He hopes to be running in 6-8 weeks, and he trusts his rehab director, David Walsh, who helped shave Lutzenkirchen’s recovery period from a shoulder injury earlier this year from six months to 3½.
“It just got to the point where I could tell in my strength and speed, it had declined a lot. I kept getting out of cuts, and my route-running, I felt slow,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s just really frustrating as a player, because you never want to admit that something like that is hindering you and making you not play to your full potential.”
He’s dealt with more than his share of adversity. As a verbal commit out of Marietta, Ga. in 2008, then-coach Tommy Tuberville was fired, leaving Lutzenkirchen and his classmates in limbo. The first living room Gene Chizik visited as Tuberville’s replacement was in Marietta.
“One of the best decisions I made in my life thus far was deciding to come to Auburn,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I know I went through a lot of hard times when coach Tuberville got fired, and trying to wait and see what coaches they were going to bring in.
“But in my heart, I knew I wanted to come to Auburn regardless.”
Lutzenkirchen’s off-field good deeds, particularly supporting children battling cancer, have been well-documented.
“I think he’s a very selfless guy,” Chizik said, “and I think that’s what’s going to make him be successful whatever he does after this because it’s never really been about him.”
Lutzenkirchen lists as top memories his first career touchdown against Mississippi State as a freshman, playing with Heisman winner Cam Newton and coming back from several deficits in 2010 (including Lutzenkirchen’s go-ahead touchdown at Alabama, which he celebrated with an improvised jig) and winning eight games his junior year with an under-the-radar squad.
This final season in Auburn didn’t go as he planned. But Lutzenkirchen has made his peace with that.
“I know that God has a plan for me and I’ll be alright in whatever I end up doing,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to have played here.”