Current and former Sooners remember Austin Box
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Friday, May 20, 2011
5/20/11 at 6:36 AM
See the police report, listen to the 911 call and watch a slideshow of Austin Box’s
Read John Hoover’s story from 2007 before Box played at OU.
NORMAN - For one happy, fleeting moment, Curtis Lofton chuckled and the grieving stopped.
He was talking about Austin Box on Thursday, a few hours after being staggered with the news that his former Oklahoma teammate had died at the age of 22. He remembered Box's first taste of OU's notorious summer conditioning program in 2007. How Box, then a bushy-haired freshman, asked for more.
"In Austin's first workout, he's out there running with the DBs, not the linebackers," Lofton said of the player who grew up to start at middle linebacker the past three seasons, "and he never got tired. I was like, 'God, this guy can't be a freshman.'"
The moment passed. Lofton paused. Then the Atlanta Falcon went right back to mourning along with everybody connected to a traumatized OU football program.
"He was my teammate, but at OU we all become brothers," he said. "Everybody goes through so much together. Me, Ryan (Reynolds) and Austin became really good friends. "It's shocking. I'm having a hard time with it. Just... disbelief."
On Thursday night, Brent Venables, Box's defensive coordinator and position coach the past four years, spoke publicly on behalf of his program.
"It's with great regret that we're here tonight under the circumstances. It's a devastating day for the Oklahoma family, the Box family," Venables said with moist eyes and between long pauses. "We're deeply saddened by the tragic death of Austin Box. Our deepest sorrows, sympathy, love and thoughts and prayers go out to the Box family and friends.
"Craig and Gail have lost a son. Courtney and Whitney have lost a brother. We've lost a great teammate and a great friend in Austin Box. It's every parent's worst nightmare to get that call.
"We're numb. Heartbroken. Austin was a great teammate. He was a joy to coach. Everybody on our team loved him. He will be greatly missed."
"We're all shocked and heartbroken," OU coach Bob Stoops said in a statement. "Austin was a great young man to coach and a great teammate. He played an integral part in our success the last three years and was looking to a big senior year.
"As heart-wrenching as this is for us, it's even more difficult for his family. More than anything, our thoughts and prayers are with them."
Stoops was among OU staffers who were traveling Thursday. Nearly all of OU's players had vacated campus before summer work could begin. They grieved via Twitter.
Linebacker Tony Jefferson: "My brother, my main man passed away."
Linebacker Corey Nelson: "Tears of pain your gone but never forgotten."
Former Sooners and teammates shared their sorrow.
"Love you Austin," Joe Jon Finley tweeted. "We will all miss you so much."
Word spread to Stillwater, and the sympathy poured from Oklahoma State.
"Sad to hear the news about Austin Box," tweeted OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden. "Great guy & will be missed."
"Austin was like an older brother to me growing up," said OSU quarterback Clint Chelf, whose brother, Colton, played with Box at Enid High School before becoming a Cowboys receiver. "I always looked up to him. We're just in shock about this and can't believe what's going on."
In Tulsa, Golden Hurricane lineman Kody Cooke struggled with the loss of his boyhood friend from Enid, who he once joined in OU's 2007 freshman class.
"It's one of those things where you don't believe it at first," Cooke said. "We've been so close for so long. I can remember playing together for the baseball state championship in seven-and-under...
"Everyone knew how great of a player Austin was, but he was also a great person. He had a huge heart."
TU coach Bill Blankenship, who faced Box's Enid Plainsmen while at Union, called his death "a horrific tragedy."
Back in Norman, OU football operations director Merv Johnson said: "Being the kind of person Austin was, it'll leave a shaking effect on our entire squad, without question."
It wasn't just the football program that was coping.
"This is a devastating day for the OU family," athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a statement.
"You can't plan for this. There's no blueprint for it," Venables said. "We just know that a young man was tragically taken from us today."
World sports writers Matt Baker and Eric Bailey contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Sooners remember Box
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Austin Box intercepts a pass in front of Texas A&M's Jamie McCoy during the 2008 season. Box appeared in 10 games as a freshman that season. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World file