Philip Lutzenkirchen faced the tough choice of shutting down his Auburn career or risking far bigger problems down the line.
Two weeks ago, the Tigers' tight end chose to have season-ending hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and remove three bone spurs, ending a frustrating final year during which he couldn't hold his blocks as long as he used to and felt slower in running routes.
Now, Lutzenkirchen is rehabilitating trying to get ready for the Senior Bowl in January if possible, or at least the NFL combine to get ready for the draft. He said doctors told him putting off surgery might have led to hip replacement before his 30th birthday.
This is an especially tough week for Lutzenkirchen, who was one of the Tigers' most popular players and accomplished tight ends.
The native of Marietta, Ga., will watch from the sidelines when Auburn (2-7, 0-6 Southeastern Conference) takes on No. 5 Georgia Saturday night.
"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," said Lutzenkirchen, who hadn't spoken to reporters since Auburn announced his season was over. "I'm just going to have to be as supportive as I can. 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."
Auburn could certainly use Lutzenkirchen on the field. He remains second on the team with 15 catches for 139 yards despite missing the past three games. His 14 career touchdown catches is a school record for tight ends, and his game-winning touchdown catch against Alabama to keep the national title run going was one of the season's more memorable plays. It sparked an impromptu end zone dance later dubbed "The Lutzie" that's drawn more than 105,000 views on YouTube.
"He'll always be remembered for certain catches that he made and some spectacular ones at that, and some that his timing was impeccable as in the Iron Bowl two years ago," Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. "His blocking and everything he's brought to the table other than the things that you even visibly see him do as a player.
"What he's like in the locker room, what he's like in encouraging young guys ... he's just always been one of those guys. And that's why I think most of our guys on our team have a very high level of regard. It's because he's just a different guy."
The Tigers also will likely be without tight end C.J. Uzomah (right hand) for this game. Uzomah had 90 receiving yards against Texas A&M, while Brandon Fulse is used as a blocker and doesn't have a reception and Blake Burgess is a former walk-on who caught his first career pass against New Mexico State.
Lutzenkirchen has been missed in an offense where he and receiver Emory Blake have accounted for 54 of the team's 117 catches.
He said an injection before the LSU game didn't help and by the Mississippi game two weeks later "I just knew something wasn't right."
A Birmingham doctor advised Lutzenkirchen to have the surgery, which he said typically has a three-month recovery time.
Lutzenkirchen said he'll start running and walking on an underwater treadmill soon and hopes to be jogging within a couple of months
Lutzenkirchen said the hip problem first bothered him in fall camp before last season.
"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," he said. "I just realized that C.J. and Brandon 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."