Commentary: For Mason, Lutzenkirchen, bond bridged SEC rivalries
by John Bednarowski
sportseditor@mdjonline.com
July 04, 2014 12:16 AM | 4885 views | 1 1 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hutson Mason (left) and Philip Lutzenkirchen stand with then-Lassiter coach Chip Lindsey during the 2008 season.
<Br>Staff file photo
Hutson Mason (left) and Philip Lutzenkirchen stand with then-Lassiter coach Chip Lindsey during the 2008 season.
Staff file photo
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Sunday morning, Hutson Mason woke up to a text message from Zach Mettenberger, who was briefly Mason’s teammate at Georgia.

That’s not out of the ordinary. Mason keeps in touch and has had many conversations with Mettenberger over the last few seasons, even as Mettenberger went on to play at LSU and, most recently, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans.

But that wasn’t all.

Mason’s former coach at Lassiter High School, Chip Lindsey, had also called.

At that point, Mason knew and felt that something was wrong.

It was then that he learned that Philip Lutzenkirchen, his friend since age 7 and teammate with the Trojans’ basketball and football teams, had died in a one-vehicle accident that also claimed the life of Joseph Ian Davis, just after 3 a.m. near LaGrange.

Since then, there have been numerous outpourings of emotion and celebration of the 23-year-old Lutzenkirchen’s much-too-short life.

On Sunday, the Auburn faithful rolled Toomer’s Corner one more time to pay tribute. More than 1,000 people came to pay their respects Wednesday night during a memorial at Lassiter’s Frank Fillmann Stadium, and what seemed to be an equally large crowd turned up to Thursday’s funeral Mass at Transfiguration Catholic Church in east Cobb, forcing police officers on site to create parking spaces on the fly.

While all those people had a connection to Lutzenkirchen, very few, if any, had the relationship Mason kept with the person who arguably became the best tight end in Auburn history. And Mason was one of the last people who had an opportunity to talk to Lutzenkirchen — less than 48 hours before he died.

“It’s a conversation I’ll cherish,” said Mason, Georgia’s expected starting quarterback for the 2014 season. “It seemed like it was God-ordained. He reached out to me and said he was praying for me. He wanted me to have a big year this season after all the things I went through (waiting four years for the chance to start).

“I was lucky Friday to have that conversation. I’m counting my blessings. I just wish I had a superpower where I could go back and tell him not to get in that car.”

After the accident, Mason got together with many of his former high school teammates and, as is often the case, they began to tell stories. He said they talked about Lutzenkirchen’s quick wit and sense of humor.

But while there were many practical jokes played within the group during their high school years, Mason said the one that always seemed to come to mind was the simplest, and it involved him, Lutzenkirchen and former Lassiter defensive back Brad Penter. And it ended with Mason usually getting in trouble.

“Philip would always put gum in Brad’s hair and blame me,” Mason said. “And then he’d just smile.”

Of course, when football players are in a room, inevitably the talk turns to the game.

“We all laughed about how bad we were,” Mason said.

Unfortunately, Mason was right. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Lassiter could do no better than a 3-7 record.

But that all changed when Chip Lindsey brought his wide-open spread offense to the east Cobb school, and what it did was unleash the talents of both Lutzenkirchen and Mason.

In 2007, Lutzenkirchen caught 42 passes for 494 yards and seven touchdowns. It was enough to earn a scholarship offer from Auburn, but it was nothing compared what was to happen in 2008.

“I knew Philip was my best target,” Mason said. “We always had the non-verbal communication. All it took was a nod or a wink.”

In 2008, Mason threw for 3,705 yards and 27 touchdowns. Seventy-three passes, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns went to Lutzenkirchen, who became a nightmare for opposing coaches and players to try to defend.

“We had (wide receiver) Marlon Anthony, who was tall but thin,” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “But Philip was the same height and could do so much more because of his size. We didn’t have anyone that could match up with him.”

Rocky Hidalgo went one step further.

“He had size, speed and agility,” said the former Walton coach now at Glynn Academy. “He was the size of a power forward.”

Lutzenkirchen used those basketball skills to introduce himself to the world late in the 2008 season in a game against Centennial.

On fourth-and-7 from the 12-yard line, Mason found Lutzenkirchen guarded in the back of the end zone. Trying to take advantage of Lutzenkirchen’s height, then listed at 6-foot-4, Mason threw high, allowing his tight end to make a play.

The ball, however, was too high. Instead, Lutzenkrichen went up, caught it, and with momentum of the throw taking him out of bounds, he batted it back in play to Reid Handler for a touchdown.

“Hutson threw it up and, when I realized I wasn’t going to be in (bounds), I pushed it to Reid,” Lutzenkirchen said at the time. “The Centennial players just kind of waited around and didn’t go for the ball, because they saw it was going long. Reid and I were still trying to make a play because it was fourth down.”

The play was featured on ESPN's SportsCenter and continues to live on in YouTube infamy.

That season ended with Lassiter winning nine games, including one in the state playoffs for the first time in program history. Mason was named the Class AAAAA Offensive Player of the Year, and Lutzenkirchen was the first-team all-state tight end.

It was that kind of effort that endeared Lutzenkirchen to the Auburn faithful.

Of course, a 2010 game-winning touchdown catch against Alabama in the Iron Bowl, during the Tigers’ national championship season, didn’t hurt either. His touchdown dance — the “Lutzie,” a high-stepping shimmy-shake — still brings smiles to Tiger fans around the country.

However, once Lutzenkirchen arrived at Auburn, he didn’t forget about his high school quarterback. Despite his breakout season, Mason had not been highly recruited going into his senior year, but his soon-to-be college rival made sure that would change.

“Philip really helped me with the recruiting process,” said Mason, who threw for 4,560 yards and 54 touchdowns his senior season, setting every single-season passing record in the state’s record books. “Once he was done (with recruiting), he got me in touch with all his recruiting contacts. He helped me get my highlight tapes and my name out there.

“He really was the older brother I never had.”

Now, Mason has a void. His big brother is gone, but he will never be forgotten.

At this point, Mason is unsure how best to honor Lutzenkirchen for everything he meant to him.

Knowing both men, it seems like that question may be easy to answer. All Mason has to do is the best he possibly can.

It’s the way Lutzenkirchen approached every game.

However, I bet Lutzenkirchen wouldn’t mind if Mason borrows the “Lutzie” after throwing a game-winning touchdown pass for Georgia in an SEC or national championship game.

John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.
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autiger83
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July 05, 2014
Good luck Hutson. Just dont throw the game winner to beat Auburn. Philip would be pissed.
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