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November 6, 2012

Lutzenkirchen remaining positive

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AUBURN -- The pain Philip Lutzenkirchen felt in his hip earlier this season wasn't the kind of thing remedied by a tablet.

He tore the labrum in his left hip. Three bone spurs in the affected area created friction that made the most elementary things difficult. Getting into a three-point stance, blocking, making cuts while in pattern elicited a jolt of pain that never abated.

So the senior's college career ended abruptly two weeks ago when a surgical procedure repaired the damage.

The pain isn't a problem now. Coping with the situation is.

"I've had to step back from football and look at my future -- not just hopefully playing at the next level, but even just trying to go throughout life without having a hip replacement," Lutzenkirchen said Tuesday morning. "It's something I needed to get done, and Coach (Gene) Chizik did a great job of making it clear that my body and health is more important than winning a couple more football games."

Lutzenkirchen is one of the best tight ends ever to play at Auburn. He finishes his career with 59 catches for 628 yards and 14 touchdowns. No tight end has scored more often. Only one player from that position (Cooper Wallace) has more catches.

He's a star by any standard.

And that played a role in how Lutzenkirchen approached that lingering pain in his hip. He knew the Tigers needed his refined blocking technique and red-zone acumen to boost an offense that desperately needed them.

Prior to the LSU game on Sept. 22, Lutzenkirchen received an injection aimed at reducing pain an inflammation in the joint. The plan didn't work. After playing at a compromised level against Ole Miss and Arkansas, the senior suffered a setback prior to the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 20 and decided to pursue surgery.

He knew his final college season would end immediately.

Still, Lutzenkirchen felt like he wasn't helping.

"It just got to the point where I could tell in my strength and speed, it had declined a lot," he said. "It's just really frustrating as a player because you never want to admit that something like that is hindering you and making you not play to your full potential. I just realized that C.J. (Uzomah) and Brandon (Fulse) could probably do a lot better than I was doing at that point in the season. I think that showed with C.J. having a big game and Brandon blocking really well. And (Blake) Burgess has been catching the ball too. I knew it was best for me and best for the team."

The general thought among Auburn's medical staff is that Lutzenkirchen will be ready for the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28, 2013. From there, he should be prepared to perform at the NFL Combine a few weeks later.

That helps his professional prospects.

That does nothing to mitigate the disappointment he'll feel along the sideline Saturday night. Lutzenkirchen, who grew up in suburban Atlanta, always looked forward to playing the Bulldogs.

He'll have to enjoy the experience vicariously this time.

"This week's been pretty tough on me so far just because it's Georgia and being from Georgia. I don't want to get too emotional but I've been, I'm happy to be a Tiger," Lutzenkirchen said. "Those are my rivals, my buddies over there playing for Georgia and it's going to be tough being on the sidelines for that one. I might still be the most fired up guy on that field even though I'll be on the sidelines. I'm just excited to root my guys on."



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