The name Philip Lutzenkirchen may not have rung a bell for many prior to last year’s Georgia-Auburn game, let alone how to spell it.
That was before the tight end from Marietta caught a pair of touchdown passes in a 49-31 win over the Bulldogs, had the deciding 7-yard touchdown grab in a 28-27 win over rival Alabama and this season caught the game-winning touchdown against South Carolina.
“My role on the team has definitely expanded a lot more,” Lutzenkirchen said. “My position on the team as a leader has definitely increased as well. I’ve just kind of grown a lot from where I was last year, on and off the field. I think people are starting to notice that.”
Consider that Lutzenkirchen has more than 17,000 followers on Twitter, just 1,500 less than Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who plays the glamour position of quarterback.
“He’s pretty big now,” Bulldogs backup quarterback Hutson Mason said of Lutzenkirchen, his close friend and former teammate at Lassiter High. “I don’t know if I can keep up with him.”
Lutzenkirchen and No. 24 Auburn visit 14th-ranked Georgia on Saturday. He already traveled to the Classic City this summer to hang out with Mason.
No, he wasn’t wearing the national title bling that Auburn players received in June for beating Oregon.
“That ring’s in the bank,” Lutzenkirchen said.
Georgia is going after its own ring. It is seeking a trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.
They’ll have to contend Saturday with the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Lutzenkirchen, a junior tied for the Auburn lead with five touchdown catches.
“He got open a couple of times last year,” cornerback Sanders Commings said. “We’re definitely going to key on him a lot this year, as well as a couple of other receivers.”
Lutzenkirchen had two touchdowns in the Tigers’ last game, a 41-23 win against Ole Miss on Oct. 29.
“Philip is just a really, really good football player,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “He’s gotten better every year. He’s very savvy. He understands the game, on top of being a very talented tight end/H-back. For us, the way we use him, we use him in so many different ways. That’s something that’s become a great tool for us.”
Auburn even will line Lutzenkirchen up at receiver.
He’s one of 17 Auburn players that call Georgia home. He committed to Auburn early in his junior year, but after coach Tommy Tuberville was fired, Lutzenkirchen looked around again.
Georgia offered him, but the Bulldogs ended up getting tight ends Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch in the same class.
“My heart was just always at Auburn,” said Lutzenkirchen, who lived in Chicago for eight years growing up.
“He’s a guy we let get out of our state,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’m sure he’ll be pretty jacked up to play us.”
While living in Georgia, he played pee-wee football and AAU basketball with Mason.
“We’ve been best friends for a long time,” Lutzenkirchen said. “Whenever we’re back home, we’ll get together and throw the football around back at our high school.”
Auburn is 8-1 when Lutzenkirchen has a touchdown catch.
Of his 37 career receptions, 12 are for touchdowns, giving him the most TDs ever by an Auburn tight end.
“I think he’s a huge target in the red zone,” Mason said. “He has not been stopped yet. It’s unfortunate they don’t get him the ball more out in the field because as you saw against Ole Miss, man, he’s just got flat-out hands.”
Lutzenkirchen snagged a one-handed catch against Ole Miss for a 4-yard touchdown.
“To be honest, I didn’t really know I caught it with one hand until I got on the sideline and saw the replay,” he said. “We work drills to catch the ball with one hand, to make tough catches like that every day.”
Even after those catches, he’s not sure that even Auburn fans know how to spell his name.
“Probably not,” he said. “It’s a long one. I hear all kinds of different pronunciations of it. It’s all fun and games.”