On a bright, sunny Southern California day, Rams rookies sat in a dimly lighted hotel conference room Monday, wearing blank stares as the mood turned somber.
Mike Lutzenkirchen had warned the players. They probably would cry when he described his son, Philip, a former Auburn tight end who tried out as a free agent with the Rams in 2013, and the alcohol-related car accident that killed him.
Philip Lutzenkirchen, 23, was ejected from the back seat of a sport utility vehicle when it ran a stop sign and went off the road in June 2014. He and the driver — both of whom had blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit, according to a toxicology report — died at the scene. Two other passengers survived.
Mike Lutzenkirchen spoke for 40 minutes, imploring players to make good decisions.
His speech was part of a mandatory two-day orientation for draftees and free agents. The orientation replaced a symposium the NFL once hosted for drafted rookies from every team.
“It was a good lesson just to hear from somebody that it actually happened to,” Pharoh Cooper, a fourth-round draft pick, said of Lutzenkirchen’s presentation.
Lutzenkirchen has delivered the message about 160 times since his son’s death, he said.
“I’m just hoping that if I can get one player that’s doing something they shouldn't be doing, in any facet, to step back and evaluate,” he said. “But more importantly, if I can get that teammate to step back there with you, because I’m not doing that and I’m not going to continue to let you do it, now you got two people thinking about one bad error in life.”
Personal relationships, drinking and driving, sportsmanship, finances and NFL policies and regulations were among the topics scheduled to be discussed during the symposium, said La’Roi Glover, the Rams’ director of player engagement.
“[We’re] just trying to educate them,” Glover said, “and if I can put one extra tool in that toolbox, then it’s a mission accomplished for the group.”
Glover acknowledged that the Rams’ relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles would present some off-the-field challenges.
“It will happen in any NFL city or any city for that matter, in general,” he said, “but … there is a part of it that is new … the unknown for that matter,” Glover said.
Cooper, from South Carolina, said that before he was drafted he was concerned only with football.
He said he has since realized the magnitude of player responsibilities. And people are watching when they are away from the field.
“Now that we’re in L.A., it’s a crazy lifestyle out here — lot of people out here. TMZ, celebrities, you want to hang with the top people and go party and show everybody that you are in the league and all that,” Cooper said. “So as a football player you have to be smart and realize that we have to come back to work every week.”
The Rams completed organized workouts last week.
Training camp is set to open in late July.