ENID — Brent Venables called him the embodiment of loyalty.
Bob Stoops remembered how he always gave it his all.
Wade Burleson admired the way he loved his family.
Friends and family from Norman to Enid packed the sanctuary Friday to celebrate the life of Austin Box.
“It's hard to portray a young. ... but full life,” Stoops, Oklahoma's head football coach, said during the funeral at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid. “But we can reflect on what Austin gave all of us.
“And he gave us a lot.”
Box, 22, died May 19 after staying at a friend's house in El Reno. He had just received his college degree in criminology-sociology the weekend before and would have been the Sooners' starting middle linebacker this season.
“Until you walk a mile in a man's shoes, it's very difficult to judge a man," said Burleson, pastor at Emmanuel, who was asked by the Box family to address reports Box died from an overdose of prescription drugs. “As a sophomore he literally broke his back in high school, and under doctors' care, the management for his pain began.
“For those of you that want to define Austin by his death, I'm here to tell you that he is to be defined by his life.”
Dozens of teammates and coaches arrived by bus from Norman and sat behind the crimson-colored casket. Former OU basketball great Brent Price, who starred at Enid before eventually playing in the NBA, sang “Amazing Grace.”
“Austin had a great impact on the community, impact on friends and impact on a city like no one I've ever seen,” said Chickasha High School football coach Tom Cobble, Box's coach at Enid High. “He had the ability to inspire great things.”
Box's legacy as a hometown hero was cemented when the two-way star spearheaded the Plainsmen to a stunning playoff run all the way to the Class 6A state championship game, which earned him Oklahoman Defensive Player of the Year honors. Soon after, he signed with OU to play football.
“Living the dream. He often said that,” recalled Venables, OU's defensive coordinator, who recruited Box. “That's pretty cool. How many people can really say that? Austin did it.
“As a football player, he had incredible toughness. I lose count of all the injuries he had. But I don't think it was ever an option as to what the next step was for Austin. He was going to make sure he continued to live that dream.”
The latest injury was a bulging disc in August that forced Box to sit out the first five games last year. Still, he worked his way back, eventually regained his starting spot and made several plays that keyed OU's five-game winning streak to end the season.
“He brought so much life to our team,” Stoops said. “He always fought back from injuries. He always played well. He always helped us win championships.”
Box, however, was described as so much more than a football player.
He was selfless. Never cared who got the credit. Had an impeccable work ethic. And could make others laugh.
“The best part of what we do is dealing with the characters,” said Stoops, who also quoted scripture from Ecclesiastes. “And Austin was a character. And fun, fun to coach.”
Box possessed a self-deprecating sense of humor, which surfaced before the U.S. Army All-American Game, featuring the best high school players in the nation.
After learning that Box's defense was playing man-to-man, Cobble asked him what he thought about covering “that running back from Florida” on passes.
Replied Box, “He'll probably score.”
At OU, after the linebackers had completed film study of the upcoming opponent, Venables allowed them to put up YouTube videos. Box always wanted to watch “Les Miles interviews,” Venables said.
But Box's most admirable attribute was the loyalty and love he showed friends and family.
His two best friends from high school became his college roommates. He always placed his sisters on the pass list so they could watch OU's closed scrimmages. And the first person he looked to hug after every football game was his mom, Gail.
“He embodied loyalty,” Venables said. “Austin was a well-renowned mama's boy, his dad (Craig) was his hero and his two sisters (Courtney and Whitney) were his best friends.
“And he had no problem expressing that in a room where not a lot of guys are willing to express themselves.”
Said Burleson: “The greatest thing I can say about Austin Box is that he loved his family.
“And his family loved him.”