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May 20, 2011

Box's life has heartbreaking ending

On Thursday, it was too early to talk about heartbreak.

Somewhere between the disbelief and the numbness, a Sooner family found itself searching for answers after the death of Austin Box. They are answers that will never be answered completely.

That's where Brent Venables found himself on Thursday evening as he stood in front of cameras and microphones anxious for a comment on the life and death of a 22-year old football player.

Venables stood there, fighting through the fog of tragedy, and delivered a message he probably still didn't fully believe.

"It's with great regret that we're here tonight," began Venables. "It's a devastating day for the Oklahoma family, the Box family. I'm deeply saddened by the tragic death of Austin Box. Our deepest sorrows, sympathy and love, go out to the Box family and friends."

The heartbreak will come once the fog and the numbness has lifted from those closest to this tragedy. But right now, they're just trying to understand how such a thing could be true.

"You can't plan for this," said Venables. "There's no blueprint for it. We just know that a young man was tragically taken from us today."

Austin Box's story is too big to be told with a simple article. He was the All-American quarterback at Enid High School who just happened to be one of the hardest hitting safeties we've ever seen at the Class 6A level.

Anyone remember when he knocked Josh Cooper's block off on a pass over the middle when Enid and Mustang matched up in the playoffs during his senior season?

Box led his team to a state championship matchup with Jenks that year with a bum wing. Even then, he stood out above just about everyone else on that field.

His elbow was so bad he had to have surgery on it after he tried to keep playing with it his first year at OU.

Box was one of the more unlucky guys we've ever seen at Oklahoma. He was ready to beat out Travis Lewis for a starting linebacker spot until he had a knee injury in the preseason during his freshmen year.

Lewis went on to break the school record for tackles as a freshman.

Box was about to take over the middle linebacker spot as the Sooners headed toward the BCS Championship Game in 2008 before an OSU receiver took out his knee when he wasn't looking.

Last season he missed most of the season due to a back injury that wouldn't even allow him to practice.

But through it all, Box never gave in.

"He exemplified everything you want in your players," said Venables. "You want to talk about adversity, he faced a lot. It was never an option not to fight his way out of it and put himself in position to contribute and that meant a lot to him, to not let his teammates down. To see him have the kind of success he did, is very satisfying.

"He's got great toughness to him and desire that's unmatched. It meant more to him not to let his teammates and coaches down than anything."

Being an Oklahoman, Box was also a Sooner through and through.

"He was living a dream. We all have dreams, we all have goals. For a lot of us it never happens. We don't get to live those dreams," said Venables. "He was living his dream being an Oklahoma Sooner."

Talking about Box as a football player was easy for Venables on Thursday evening. Talking about his passing, was an entirely different story.

No one ever tells you that someday you may hear something so devastating that your mind won't allow you to believe it.

Only true tragedy teaches us this lesson.

Teammates and coaches will find themselves wanting to talk about something, or laugh about something with Austin Box, and he won't be there. That's when the grief, the sadness and the heartbreak will start to set in most.

Venables toughest task on Thursday night was answering a question about Box not being there when the season started next year. He took a long pause before gathering himself. It was yet another reminder that Box was truly gone.

"He's such a big part of what we do and this family," said Venables. "To not have him here leaves a real empty feeling and it's really, really hard."

Austin Box will be missed so much because he was so loved. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the Box family and the OU family who share in more heartbreak than anyone ever deserves.


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