Austin Box, respected and loved by friends and teammates, was remembered in his hometown of Enid, Norman and even Stillwater.
Box, an OU starting linebacker and former All-State football player at Enid, died Thursday morning after being found unconscious at an El Reno home. He was with J.T. Cobble, the son of Tom Cobble, Box's high school football coach in Enid.
Current Enid football coach Tommy Parker, defensive coordinator under Tom Cobble when Box starred for the Plainsmen, recalled his former player.
“He was a great kid, just the ultimate competitor. He's the best athlete I've ever coached but more than that, he was the best competitor I've ever coached,” said Parker, who replaced Tom Cobble as Enid's head coach in 2008. “He was a real coachable player. He thrived on being coached.
“This is a sad, sad day for Plainsmen football and the Enid community. I'm not sure if this has hit me yet. Absolute disbelief. I wish I had other words, but I don't right now.”
Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf, who played football with Box at Enid, said Box was “like an older brother” to him.
"He was the same age as my brother (OSU senior receiver Colton Chelf), and I always looked up to him,” Chelf said. “We're just in shock about this and can't believe what's going on."
More than a dozen OU football players issued condolences and tributes to Box on Twitter.
“R.I.P. Austin Box I love you bro,” wrote fellow linebacker Corey Nelson.
OSU wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden also memorialized Box via Twitter.
“Sad to hear the news about Austin Box,” Weeden tweeted. “Great guy & will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family as well as his teammates.”
Sooner administrators, including President David Boren, released statements later in the day.
“The university family is deeply saddened by the tragic death of student-athlete Austin Box. Our hearts go out to his family and friends,” Boren said.
OU athletics director Joe Castiglione said grief counselors have been made available to members of the team and Box's close friends.
Chana'e Jones, a senior outfielder on the Sooner softball team, was one of Box's many friends on campus.
Together, they received their college degrees over the weekend.
“He got his degree, I got my degree,” Jones said. “It's sad to see something like this. It really opened my eyes a lot. He never gets to play football again. I get the opportunity to play softball this weekend. It puts things into perspective.”
Staff Writers Bob Przybylo and Mike Baldwin contributed to this report