Former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, one of the best players at his position in school history and a starter on the Tigers' championship-winning team in 2010, died early Sunday morning in a car accident, Auburn athletics department spokesman Kirk Sampson told USA TODAY Sports.
Lutzenkirchen was 23. A multiple-year starter at Auburn and All-Southeastern Conference selecion, his career ended midway through the 2012 season as a result of a hip injury.
"I'm deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Philip Lutzenkirchen," Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement. "He was a great young man who touched the lives of everyone he knew in a positive way. On the field, Philip was a great player and competitor, but more importantly, he was a great teammate and friend off the field.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Philip's parents, Mike and Mary, and all of his family and friends who are grieving his passing. This is a sad day for the entire Auburn family. I find peace knowing that even though Philip was taken from us too soon, that he lived his life to the fullest, leaving a lifetime of great memories for his family and friends to cherish forever."
The one-vehicle accident occurred at roughly 3:05 a.m. outside of LaGrange, Ga., said Gordy Wright, the director of the Georgia State Patrol's Public Information Office.
The 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe containing Lutzenkirchen and three others ran a stop sign and careened out of control for roughly 450 feet before overturning several times, coming to a rest on its roof.
Lutzenkirchen and the driver, Joseph Ian Davis, were killed. Another two passengers were taken to West Georgia Medical Center in LaGrange.
In a statement, Wright said blood was drawn from the driver to determine if alcohol impairment was a contributing factor to the accident.
Lutzenkirchen ended his Auburn career as one of the most prolific tight ends in the program's history, ranking first for touchdown receptions by a tight end (14), second for total receptions (59) and third in receiving yards (628).
While his best season came in 2011, when the then-junior earned second-team All-SEC honors, perhaps Lutzenkirchen's most memorable stretch came during the final weeks of 2010, when he helped lead the Tigers past Alabama – making the game-winning touchdown grab in a 28-27 win – and Oregon to claim an undefeated national championship.
The hip injury essentially prevented Lutzenkirchen from a career in the NFL; he signed a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Rams in 2013 but lasted just four months with the franchise before being released.
Since leaving Auburn, Lutzenkirchen worked at a wealth-management company and volunteered as an assistant coach at Saint James School in Montgomery, Ala.
"Philip Lutzenkirchen was what every parent aspires their son to be," said Gene Chizik, Lutzenkirchen's coach from 2009-12. "My deepest sympathy is extended to his parents Mike and Mary, his sisters, and all of his extended family. We should all begin by honoring his life because he lived a life worthy of that. In his 23 short years, he has certainly left an impactful legacy to everyone he touched. I will miss him deeply."
Said Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs:
"Philip's death is a devastating tragedy for his family, the Auburn family and his countless friends. Today is also a profoundly sad day for the Auburn Athletics family, who loved and respected Philip not only as a great player but more importantly as a friend and the epitome of an Auburn man. I came to know Philip well and I admired everything about who he was and the way he lived his life.
"He had a strong faith, a big heart and a burning desire to help others. Philip was a bright light this world desperately needed, and his death leaves a void that can't possibly be filled. My prayers, my thoughts and my heart go out to his wonderful parents, Mike and Mary, their entire family and his many grieving friends."