It's been a good week for Gene Chizik and Auburn with the hiring of Brian VanGorder for Defensive Coordinator. But the good news really started Sunday night when Phillip Lutzenkerchen, the team's offensive MVP, announced he would not be declaring for the NFL draft and would return for his senior year.
When Gene Chizik heard the news he remarked, " We're looking forward to Philip returning for his senior season ... (he) will help provide great leadership for our team in 2012."
The importance of the announcement is huge for Auburn's 2012 season. The Tigers' second team All-SEC Tight End was the lead blocker for the SEC's fourth best rushing attack, and led all Auburn receivers with seven touchdowns. He scored game winning catches in this year's South Carolina game as well as in last year's historic Iron Bowl.
However, the importance of Phillip's decision to return is far more important than just another skilled player being available to the offense. The real significance of his decision is the leadership that he brings to the field.
The truth is that every year there are a vast number of athletes that possess tremendous athletic ability but are lacking in the area of leadership. It's also true that not all great athletes are leaders (e.g. Mike Dyer). Lutzenkirchen on the other hand has proven himself as a selfless player who is willing to do whatever it takes for the good of the team.
Anyone who has ever seen Phillip play can attest not only to his natural ability but to his enthusiasm, his energy, and the inspiration he brings to the game.
Best selling author John Maxwell says that "Leadership is influence." If that maxim is true, and I believe it is, Lutz's influence will be vital to the success of the Tigers in 2012.
The Sports Illustrated All-American holds the school record for TD's by a tight end with 14 scores on 44 receptions. That's one touchdown for every 3rd reception. Impressive stats .Yet if he had not committed himself to the unselfish task of lead blocker out of the backfield this year, his personal numbers would be even higher. But with leaders it's not about personal glory, it's about the team.
There are a lot of intangibles to success in the game of football including talent, coaching, scheduling, and of course luck. But the most important ingredient may be having good leaders on the field. Players that inspire and influence the team to pull it off when times are tough.
Lutz told Phillip Marshall this week that he feels good about where the Auburn program is headed, "We are going to have another legitimate shot at getting to the national championship with so many people returning and another good recruiting class coming in."
Players like Phillip Lutzenkirchen , Emory Blake, and Onterio McCalebb, know what it's like to go to the mountain top and they are ready to lead the younger players back to that pinnacle. Lutz and company just might do that too, after all...
"Leadership is influence."