Dave Sittler: Austin Box was more than a jersey number
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2011
5/21/11 at 5:42 AM
Related story: ME’s Office works on OU player’s case.
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Original Print Headline: Remembering more than a jersey number
THE NUMERAL on Austin Box's jersey was the only thing that never seemed to fit.
Linebackers usually have numbers ranging from the 40s to the 60s. But Box wore No. 12 during his Oklahoma football career, which has tragically ended one season shy of completion.
My intention was to one day ask the affable Box why he chose to wear a jersey number usually assigned to a quarterback. As a matter of fact, Box shared No. 12 with OU quarterback Landry Jones the past two seasons.
The only chance to interview him was in post-game press conferences. And that isn't exactly the appropriate time to ask a trivial numbers question when Tulsa World readers want to hear the OU players' thoughts on their contributions during the game.
Shoot, there would be other opportunities. Perhaps at media day next August, or after his playing days were over when he was back at Memorial Stadium watching his alma mater whoop up on somebody.
But, as us procrastinators tend to do in life, I waited too long satisfy my curiosity. The only question left now is the one we always ask when a 22-year-old person dies - why?
Medical officials will eventually explain the reasons behind Box's death on Thursday at the El Reno home of a high school friend. Until then, I'll leave the speculation to others.
At the moment, I prefer to dwell on happy memories. Like how Austin Box, except for that number No. 12, absolutely looked the perfect part of an OU middle linebacker in his Sooner uniform.
A 6-foot-2, 232-pound wrecking ball, Box had all the qualities a coach looks for at the position - fast, quick, tough, smart and relentless.
The player, of course, has to do more than look the part in his school colors. He can look like Tarzan, but he's no good to the team if he hits like Jane.
And you hit the mother lode if you can pour that package of football skills into the uniform of the player's dream team.
Austin Box was a hitting machine long before he arrived at OU. A two-way player at Enid High School, he was a five-star prospect and an All-American who could have signed with one of several powerhouse programs.
But those recruiters were wasting their time. Introduced to OU football when his parents took him to games as a child, Box became infatuated with the idea of one day playing on Owen Field.
OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables explained Box's passion during an emotional press conference Thursday night. With head coach Bob Stoops in Italy on vacation, Venables, who also was Box's position coach, tried to make some sense out of the mind-numbing news of the premature death of a player he recruited.
"We all have dreams, all have goals," Venables said. "(Box) was living his dream, being an Oklahoma Sooner."
It was having his dream come true that drove Box to overcome several injuries as a Sooner. Proud to be representing OU, he felt the responsibility of fighting through his setbacks to be there for his team.
Did he push his oft-injured body too hard? Should he have hung it up after yet another injury last season? That's for others to answer.
But there was no question he was driven by pride. Atlanta Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton talked about the feelings he shared with his friend and former teammate when it came to representing their hometowns at the school of their dreams.
"I was proud of him," Lofton said. "He was from Enid. I was from Kingfisher; we were holding it down for the home state."
And 2011 was supposed to be the glory-filled season when Box helped bring a BCS national championship back to Oklahoma. Give OU its eighth national title and first since 2000.
As a redshirt senior, he would have the duty of being a leader. His experience and maturity was needed on a team that couldn't get caught up in the all the hype that's expected to come when OU is ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls.
Now, those teammates who looked to Box for that leadership, must find a way to carry on without one of the most popular and respected people on this talent-laden OU team.
They undoubtedly will find a way to honor him throughout next season. It could be wearing a patch with his initials on their uniforms. Or perhaps his number on a sticker affixed to their helmets.
If it's the latter, there will be a whole bunch of Sooners with the same number somewhere on their uniforms. Sadly, we won't have to ask why they are all wearing No. 12.