ATHENS, Ga. -- After the crash, Kolton Houston had nightmares.
"It was hard," Houston said. "For about two weeks I really could not sleep. I'd wake up from dreams where I was actually in the car. I'd wake up from dreams were I was getting in the car and getting back out of the car, and then I'd have these other dreams where I was living moments from the weekend. So for about two and a half or three weeks it was kind of hard."
The car in question was a Chevrolet Tahoe that belonged to Houston's friend, former Georgia baseball player Ian Davis. It was the same SUV involved in a tragic accident on June 29 in LaGrange, Ga., that claimed the life of Davis and former Auburn star tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. Two more of Houston's friends, Tanner Case and Elizabeth Craig, were also injured in the crash. The group was on their way to get something to eat when Davis ran through a stop sign at an intersection and into a churchyard. The vehicle flipped and eventually came to rest 450 feet away from the road. Lutzenkirchen and Davis were ejected from the vehicle.
Houston could have been in that Tahoe. The right offensive tackle for the Georgia Bulldogs had spent the day with Lutzenkirchen and the others on Georgia baseball player Conor Welton's farm.
"Conor has a huge farm in LaGrange so we just bring all the dogs down there," Houston said. "I had my dog, Connor had his dog, Ian had his dog, Kaylie had her dog and Elizabeth had her dog; there were like eight dogs there that weekend. We had a blast. Two of the people had just gone to sleep and the others decided we were going to go to the store to get some food. For some reason I didn't go out to the car, I just stayed at the house with the dogs. I just kind of sat up on the front porch. And then they left."
His decision to stay behind may have saved his life.
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"About 45 minutes later, after they hadn't come back, I called Ian's phone," Houston said. "Obviously I didn't get an answer and then I just fell asleep waiting on them. The next morning Connor Welton actually came up and knocked on my door and said, 'Hey, where is everybody?' I said, 'I don't know, where are they?'-- because Ian was supposed to be sleeping with me. He said, 'I don't know, their car's not here.' And I was like, 'That's weird, I know they left last night.'
"[Welton] said, 'Well, that would explain why I got a call from a random number.' So we called and it was the sheriff and he just told us we needed to come to the hospital and he wouldn't tell us anything. We drove straight to the hospital and right when we got to there, Tanner was sitting outside waiting for us. He told us right then what happened. I ran right into the hospital to find Elizabeth, and I found her right as they were putting her in the ambulance to take her to Atlanta so I just rode to Atlanta with her. I was with her for the next week."
The deaths of Lutzenkirchen, 23, and Davis, 22, shocked college football fans across the nation. Lutzenkirchen was one of the most beloved Auburn players on the 2010 National Championship team. He was respected by foes and adored by his peers. Lutzenkirchen was greatly admired in Athens despite the deep rivalry between Georgia and Auburn. He was very close friends with Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason as the two played together at Lassiter High School.
Houston didn't really know Lutzenkirchen prior to that fateful weekend, but the two found common ground in teasing their mutual friend Mason.
"That was the first weekend I'd really met Phil," Houston said. "We'd met a couple of times through recruiting, but that was the first weekend I'd really hung out with him. So I know Hutson had talked to him Friday night, and we all were sitting there and I forgot what we were talking about, but I told Phil something Phil wouldn't have known about Hutson. That's why Phil called Hutson; he was telling Hutson the stuff I was telling him. And Hutson was like, 'HOW do you KNOW that?' and Phil said, 'I'm down here with Kolton.' So, yeah, that's how they talked that last night."
Mason has said that last conversation with Lutzenkirchen meant the world to him. Mason even greeted reporters on the first day of fall camp wearing a round blue and orange pin with the number 43 on it – Lutzenkirchen's jersey number. The Auburn star also left an impression on Houston.
"I've got a new tattoo," Houston said, rolling up his sleeve to show his new ink. "It is Philippians 4:13. I got it for Philip. He wore 43. Ian is outlined. Phillip and Ian put together make Philippians. Ian had Philippians 4:13 on his side. Ian's uncle's daily devotional verse was 4:13."
The nightmares are gone for the most part and Houston's faith has served him well in coping with the loss of his friends.
"It's been a struggle, but somebody showed me that it's kind of cowardly to wish they were back here," Houston said. "Because they don't wish they were back here with us. It's like a jealous thing. So once I wrapped my head around that I felt better about the situation….There's a plan for everything you know. I've learned that multiple times. And they touched so many people's lives you know….They'd touched so many people."