NORMAN — Pausing frequently between words, tears in his eyes, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables met with the media Thursday night to reflect on the career of senior middle linebacker Austin Box, who died Thursday.
“He was living the dream,” Venables said. “We all have dreams. We all have goals. For a lot of us, it never happens. We don't get to live those dreams. He was living his dream being an Oklahoma Sooner. He grew up his whole life doing exactly what he was doing everyday.”
Box, from Enid, was found unconscious by a friend Thursday morning at an El Reno home.
“We're numb, heartbroken,” Venables said. “Austin was a great teammate. He was a joy to coach. Everybody on our team loved him. He will be greatly missed.
“Our focus and concern is to be with the Box family at this time, give them the support that they need. (And) to our players, the support and nurturing they'll need as well. You can't plan for this. There's no blueprint for it. I just know a young man was tragically taken from us today.”
OU players are dispersed around the country. After final exams ended last week, players were given three weeks off before they return in early June for summer classes and workouts. Venables said counseling will be available 24/7.
“News travels fast, but you want to inform people the appropriate way,” Venables said. “Our people got together rather quickly and did it the right way.”
The Sooners won their final five games last season to win a seventh Big 12 title under coach Bob Stoops, who is vacationing in Europe.
It was no coincidence the defense improved when Box, sidelined by a back injury the first half of the season, started the final five games.
“He's made a ton of big plays,” said Venables, who was Box's position coach. “He was instrumental in the turnaround we had, to finish the way we did and become Big 12 champions. Without him, I'm not sure we would have finished the same way...