MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Phillip Lutzenkirchen’s legacy is living on through St. James High School senior Jalen Harris. Lutzenkirchen only spent a spring and a summer as Jalen’s tight ends coach, but the impact and influence that he had on Jalen’s life reached far beyond those few months. “I think about him all the time,” says Jalen, “I have a picture of him on my nightstand that I see every morning when I wake up.”
Jalen was recruited by several of the country’s top schools, including Alabama, LSU, Miami and Auburn, but for months, he had not heard from any schools. But Lutzenkirchen kept encouraging him. “He did tell me to always work hard. Hey, your offers are going to come, just keep working hard and doing what you’re doing. I think that while he was here, that was the best I’ve played football since I started playing. I was in great shape. I caught everything that was thrown to me. I blocked well. I think him being there really just inspired me to be great every time I went on the field. I can only thank him for that,” Jalen says.
At a ceremony on June 24, 2014, he verbally committed to the Tigers – a decision that Lutzenkirchen was so proud of. Jalen says he grew up cheering for the Crimson Tide and was actually strongly considering Alabama, and Lutzenkirchen was extremely supportive. “He was like, man, I’m pumped up for you. I can’t wait to cheer you on,” explains Jalen.
Five days later, Jalen woke up to several texts and tweets from his friends, telling him that Lutzenkirchen was killed in a car crash overnight. Then his mom came into his room and held him. “I cried for about a week straight… It felt like a movie. I just didn’t know what to think. It was unreal for me to be at such a high a couple days ago, and then out of nowhere, just to get this devastating news,” Jalen says.
Seven months have passed since that morning, and Jalen has been living everyday like his former coach would. He traditionally wears #9 on the football field, but switched to #43 this season to honor Lutzenkirchen’s memory. “I wore 43 just to play through him on the field and everything that he’s done. I just tried to sort of imitate him throughout the season – you know, the great things he did, the great catches, the great blocks, and being a leader on the team,” he says.
Jalen is no stranger to the Lutzenkirchen family. The day that he committed to Auburn, his sister Ann says the entire Lutzenkirchen family got an excited text message from Phillip. Since then, Jalen calls Abby, Ann and Amy his “sisters.” “They told me – we might’ve lost an older brother, but we gained a younger one – and that meant the world to me because I never had a sister growing up, and I have 3 sisters now,” he explains.
The Lutzenkirchen family attended some of Jalen’s high school games, and they’re looking forward to seeing him play at Auburn too. “It’s like a little piece of Phillip’s out there playing football,” says Ann.