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.”
Varsity blog: Enid football coach remembers Box
Austin Box's 2010 statistics
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