Sooners share memories of Austin Box

Updated: May 27, 2011, 4:34 PM ET
By David Ubben | ESPN.com

ENID, Okla. -- Friends, family and a pair of communities gathered at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Friday to say goodbye to Enid native and Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box.

Box, 22, died on May 19 in Oklahoma City after being found unresponsive at a friend's home in El Reno, just outside of Oklahoma City.

[+] EnlargeAustin Box
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAustin Box was expected to be the Sooners' starting middle linebacker this fall as a senior.

The church's parking lot was nearly full and dotted with news trucks 30 minutes before the service began for a person that "had an impact on a city like no other player I've ever seen," said Wade Burleson, a family friend and, for two decades, senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist.

Sooners quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles led a procession of 50 of Box's Oklahoma teammates, who sat on stage during the memorial service.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Box's position coach, spoke during the memorial on behalf of the university and the team. Athletic director Joe Castiglione was in attendance, along with a handful of other Oklahoma officials.

Burleson and Venables both described Box as a young man living his dream. Early in life, he expressed a desire to be an Oklahoma Sooner.

"I lose count of all the injuries, but there was never an option of what the next stop was," Venables told the crowd. "He was always going to live that dream."

He always brought his teammates joy. It hurts to think of what could have been, but we can focus on what he gave us, and he gave us a lot.

-- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops

In the opening remarks of the service, Burleson said he was asked by Box's family to respond to reports of Box abusing prescription drugs. The cause of death remains unknown.

"Until you walk a mile in a man's shoes, it's difficult to judge him," Burleson said on behalf of the Box family. "Rather than define Austin by his death, we're here to define him by his life."

Stoops shared a passage from Ecclesiastes 3, and opened his remarks by saying, "The coaching manual doesn't prepare you for a day like this."

"The best part of what we do is deal with characters, and he was a character," Stoops said. "He was a fun, fun guy to coach."

Box's teammates were dispersed about the country after the semester ended and were not scheduled to be back on campus until June. Last week, some of them learned of his death while on a mission trip to Haiti.

Freshmen teammates Kenny Stills, Tony Jefferson and Brennan Clay flew in from California to memorialize their former teammate.

Venables said he called his former linebacker his "Box knife."

"He was always sharp as a razor," he said. Venables commended Box for his humility and pride at being a "mama's boy" in a college football world filled with substantial egos.

"His dad was his hero and his sisters were his best friends," Venables said, adding that Box requested passes for his sisters to each one of Oklahoma's closed scrimmages throughout his career. "He had no problem expressing that."

Added Stoops: "We know he's in perfect peace now, and we'll be with him again."

Venables also shared Box's love for YouTube videos of LSU coach Les Miles interviews, which he'd call up when the team was done watching film. He also recalled the final video session he had with Box and the team's linebackers -- they watched an episode of the 1950s television sitcom "Leave it to Beaver."

Addressing Craig and Gail Box, Austin Box's parents, directly at the end of his time at the podium, Venables said, "It's been a pleasure and an honor to coach your son."

He also said that Box's seat, traditionally to the left of Venables, during position meetings would remain unoccupied.

"He was always my left-hand man in the meeting room and he still will be. No one will be in that seat but Austin's spirit," he said.

Stoops shared a story about Box taking Venables to the ground during a practice, resulting in laughter from the linebackers that turned heads across the football field.

"He always brought his teammates joy," Stoops said.

"It hurts to think of what could have been, but we can focus on what he gave us, and he gave us a lot."

Box starred at Enid High School, leading the Plainsmen to the Class 6A title game in 2006, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver and free safety at different times. At Oklahoma, where he was expected to vie for a starting spot as a senior, he started the last five games last season, had his second career interception in a win over Oklahoma State, and made eight tackles as Oklahoma beat Connecticut in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

David Ubben covers the Big 12 for ESPN.com.

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