EL RENO — Police who were sent to an El Reno home where OU football player Austin Box was unconscious Thursday morning were told he had overdosed, according to a police report.
Box, a 22-year-old linebacker, died after being taken to a hospital, authorities said.
El Reno police said paramedics were sent at 9:30 a.m. to 1219 S Reno Ave. J.T. Cobble, a friend of Box's, called 911 and said Box was unconscious and not breathing. The 911 tape was released by police.
“He takes pain pills, and he's not responding to me,” Cobble said.
Box had back surgery in August, the day after OU's second preseason scrimmage.
On the 911 recording, Cobble can be heard calling out Box's name to try to get his attention.
After getting instructions from the dispatcher, Cobble began performing CPR, counting the chest compressions out loud.
Caller was son of high school coach
Box was staying at the El Reno house with Cobble, who is the son of Tom Cobble, Box's high school football coach in Enid. The house is owned by J.T. Cobble's grandfather, Edward Metz, who confirmed his grandson was at the house when paramedics were called. Cobble is a Chickasha High School assistant football coach who previously coached in Enid and El Reno.
According to the police report, Cobble was performing CPR on Box when police arrived. Cobble told police he thought Box had overdosed.
El Reno Police Chief Ken Brown said prescription drugs were found at the house. He said no arrests were made at the house and police had not been called to the house before. Box was arrested twice on misdemeanors during his tenure at OU, but he completed deferred sentences in both cases and neither involved drugs.
Box was taken to Mercy Hospital in El Reno and later flown to Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City, where he was pronounced dead.
Family, others react
The Box family released a statement through Mercy Health Center.
“The Box family wishes to express their appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy from across the state,” the family said. “We particularly want to thank the University of Oklahoma, the coaching staff and players for their kindness and support. Austin loved everything about Oklahoma — the people, his hometown of Enid and his many close friends. Most of all, Austin loved his family and we loved him. We invite you to join us in celebrating his life.”
Box, who earned his degree in sociology and criminology last weekend, was going into his final season.
After missing the first half of the year with a back injury, Box returned to the starting lineup at middle linebacker midseason and was a big part of OU's late-season resurgence.
“The university family is deeply saddened by the tragic death of student-athlete Austin Box. Our hearts go out to his family and friends,” OU President David Boren said in a statement.
“Austin Box will be greatly missed by his many friends and teammates in the athletics department and all across campus. Grief counseling is being made available to members of the team and his close friends,” OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said in a separate statement.
OU head coach Bob Stoops, who is in Europe this week, also issued a statement.
“We're all shocked and heartbroken,” Stoops said. “Austin was a great young man, 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 forward to a big senior year. As heart-wrenching as this is for us, we know it's even more difficult for his family. More than anything, our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Oklahoma State University quarterback Clint Chelf, who played with Box in Enid, also remembered him fondly.
“Austin was like an older brother to me growing up. He was the same age as my brother, and I always looked up to him,” Chelf said. “He will be missed and our prayers are with him and his family. We're just in shock about this and can't believe what's going on.”
High school star, projected OU starter
Box, who led the Enid High School football team to the state championship game, had dealt with injuries in college. A prep quarterback and Oklahoman all-state safety, Box was recruited to OU as a linebacker.
Going into the 2008 season, Box was the presumptive starter at outside linebacker. But days before OU's season opener, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, which pushed eventual Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Travis Lewis into the starting lineup.
Box re-emerged as a starter at middle linebacker after starter Ryan Reynolds was lost for the season to injury, but in the regular-season finale, he was knocked out for the season with a knee sprain.
In 2009, Box suffered elbow and knee injuries that caused him to miss two games.
And then in 2010, after earning the starting job at middle linebacker again, the back injury prompted surgery and forced him to sit out five games.
Box eventually regained his starting job the 10th game of the season, and his play was a big part of OU's late-season run that included wins over OSU, Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship, and Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.
During spring practice, Box was limited, but only as a precaution to keep his back healthy.
“I've been able to do my fair share. I've done a lot,” he told The Oklahoman at the time. “Doing everything in the weight room. Out here at practice, sure I'm sitting out a few reps here and there. But there's still a lot I'm doing. I'm getting plenty of work in, all the football work I need to get in to stay sharp.
“Everything has gone great. I feel real good about my spring so far.”
OU teammates react on Twitter
Several of Box's OU teammates posted statements on Twitter following his death.
Tackle Donald Stephenson: “Praying for my 07 brother's family, Austin Box. RIP bro.”
Defensive end Chuka Ndulue: “R.I.P to a brother and a mentor Austin Box we love you and miss you man.”
Defensive end David King: “Thoughts and prayers go out to Austin Box family. Great teammate. Even better person. U will be missed in the lockeroom.”
Cornerback Gabe Lynn: “Rip Box. You in my prayers bro.”
Linebacker Joe Ibiloye: “Yall say a prayer for Austin Box family. I love u bro and I know ur in a better place.”
Quarterback Blake Bell: “Austin Box the sooner family will miss you brother! You are in a better place.”
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