Auburn TE Philip Lutzenkirchen catches on
AUBURN, Ala. (AP)
He has 27,000-plus Twitter followers and, now that quarterback Cam Newton has moved on to the NFL, the tight end draws the biggest cheers whenever the Tigers' starting lineup is announced at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It's an unusual role for a player who until this year hasn't been in an offense that featured his position.
''I've never heard a tight end get the biggest cheer in the stadium until last year,'' said Jay Boulware, Auburn's tight ends and special teams coach. ''It was Lutz, every time. I was teasing him in the meeting about that (Friday). I said, `You guys should hear when they announce the starting lineup and they say Lutz's name. It is the biggest cheer on our football team, by far.'
''It used to be the quarterback. When Cam was here, obviously it was Cam. It just struck me as odd one day when all of a sudden it became Lutz. He's pretty popular.''
Like many things in this state, you can trace that popularity at least partly to the Iron Bowl.
Lutzenkirchen's 7-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth-quarter completed the scoring in a 28-27 victory over Alabama two years ago and kept the Tigers on track for the national title. It might have been overshadowed by the Newton-led comeback at the time, but Auburn fans didn't forget.
His awkward but enthusiastic celebratory dance was fairly memorable, too.
''He made one of the biggest plays in Alabama history. I'm talking about Alabama and Auburn history. Actually it is Alabama history, too,'' Boulware said. ''When he caught that touchdown pass against Alabama and did that little touchdown dance, the Lutzie as they called it. I think that pretty much won him over with the fans.''
His popularity also might stem from Lutzenkirchen being personable and articulate. He has interned the past two summers with a group called Youth for Christ. He visited with high school kids around the area, along with defensive end Nosa Eguae this summer and quarterback Barrett Trotter last year.
''There's not many tight ends on the same platform that I have,'' he said. ''That goes back to catching touchdowns and just the way I was raised, being well-spoken and trying to do the right thing all the time. I think people appreciate that, especially when you hear about all these college athletes getting in trouble all the time and not doing the right thing. It definitely goes back to how I was raised and my family. I think it's refreshing for people to see athletes have success, but at the same time represent themselves and their university in the right way.''
Fullback/tight end Blake Burgess sums up his teammate's popularity on two fronts.
''He is Mr. Touchdown,'' Burgess said. ''He's a great person all around. He's one of the nicest guys I've ever been around. If anybody should have 27,000 Twitter followers, it should be Lutzenkirchen.''
Lutzenkirchen also scored the game-winning touchdown against South Carolina last season and the go-ahead fourth-quarter score to help beat the Gamecocks two years ago.
He led the Tigers with seven touchdown catches last season - on 24 receptions - and already owns the school's career mark for a tight end with 14. Then he was a favored red zone target for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, sneaking out of the backfield after a day of mostly blocking.
''He can be a wideout, he can be a tight end, he can come out of the backfield,'' Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. ''You can move him around in multiple ways. He's the same old Philip. He's just an incredibly gifted pass receiver in open space. He knows that our No. 1 challenge with him right now is to make sure he can be a physical perimeter blocker meaning in a three-point stance from the tight end position, and that's going to be required.
''He's done it some in the past, but more of that's being required now. We know he can catch the ball. He's got to continue to improve in all phases, but he's certainly a key guy in our offense.''
Follow John Zenor on Twitter: (at)jzenor