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The lessons Mike Lutzenkirchen learned from his late son, the Auburn football star

He was hulking and handsome, a talented Auburn University tight end from Atlanta who was known for his great motor and his big heart. But in the early morning hours of June 29, 2014, Philip Lutzenkirchen was gone — and after making a series of bad decisions, at that.

Over five years later, Mike Lutzenkirchen is carrying on the memory of his son and saving lives along the way.

If Philip Lutzenkirchen was a hero on the football field, Mike is a hero to thousands, as he turns his resilient work ethic into good by visiting schools, companies and organizations to spread his message about the dangers of drinking and driving as well as the importance of seat belt use.

Mike’s only son was loving and kind-hearted, but he was also human — and when he climbed into a car and sat in the back seat behind a driver who was drunk, when he sat in that car without a seat belt and was legally drunk himself, he put his life in danger. It was a life that was snuffed out after a vicious crash in LaGrange, Georgia.

Mike told the Huts And Nuts podcast, “If you make a series of poor decisions in a compressed time frame, there is no discrimination.”

Mike Lutzenkirchen has been saving lives for over half a decade now, and he does so as he thinks about his only son every minute of every day. Only months after Philip’s passing, Mike knew that he had to do something, so he reached out to family members and friends. Soon thereafter, the Lutzie 43 Foundation was born.

Its mission? To educate youth, especially teenagers, on the importance of decision making.

The Foundation’s motto? “Live Like Lutz, Love Like Lutz, Learn From Lutz” — and Mike has been traveling the country to preach that message for years.

In the midst of speaking nationwide to some 170,000 students, thoughts of Philip never leave him.

As Mike remarked, “If you have faith, you know that the person you have lost has gone to heaven. I credit the man upstairs and my family for giving me strength.”

It’s that kind of passion that Mike brings to his speeches all year long, and when he speaks to young people, they respond. The foundation’s “43 Key Seconds” initiative reminds teens of a checklist before starting their car engine– it’s easy and sensical. The foundation (which can be found here at Lutzie43.org) has also raised over $2 million for scholarships, as the foundation has served as a worldwide platform of advice and encouragement.

Each and every day the Lutzenkirchen family grieves. Mike, Mary, (his wife of 34 years), and his daughters Amy, Ann and Abby never go a day without thinking of their son or brother.

Mike advised, “The loss of our son will not impact our love for one another.”

Still, five years later, Mike still wonders, adding, “You wonder what he would look like. You wonder who he would be dating. You wonder what he’d be like as an uncle to your own granddaughter.”

Thoughts of Philip are always in his mind, and those thoughts continue to motivate Mike, who, like a loving father and a proud soldier, continues to share advice that saves lives.

Mike Lutzenkirchen never played tight end at Auburn. He never caught a touchdown pass from Cam Newton. He never played in the NFL. But what Mike has done is remember his son by continuing his mission of character education. And for that, Mike Lutzenkirchen is a hero of the game.

Listen to the full interview:

Rick Karle is a 24-time Emmy winning broadcaster and a special sports contributor to Yellowhammer News. He is also the host of the Huts and Nuts podcast.