Three Cowboys playing with heavy hearts after death of Austin Box

JENNI CARLSON COMMENTARY — Oklahoma State football players Casey LaBrue, Colton Chelf and Clint Chelf say they don't really have any interest in watching Thursday night's Insight Bowl. It might have been different if their former teammate and friend Austin Box hadn't died.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 29, 2011

Casey LaBrue has no desire to go watch the Sooners play in the Insight Bowl.

Ditto for brothers Colton and Clint Chelf.

They are Cowboys, after all.

But things would be vastly different for the three Oklahoma State football players if their longtime, childhood buddy were suiting up for Oklahoma. They'd have taken up the Fiesta Bowl on its offer to give players tickets to see the warm-up act, the Insight Bowl. They'd have been inside Sun Devil Stadium to watch their instate rivals on Friday night.

They might've even pulled for the Sooners.

If only Austin Box hadn't died.

“If he was still playing,” LaBrue said, “I'd go.”

Like so many things, the OU linebacker's sudden death changed that.

As the Sooners conclude a season full of tributes to Box, there are some Cowboys who've played this year with heavy hearts, too. LaBrue and the Chelfs grew up along with Box in Enid and had been friends since elementary school.

All of the Enid boys still feel the pain of his death.

“It still doesn't even seem like ... ” Colton Chelf said, his words trailing off but his meaning coming through loud and clear.

To the young men who grew up with Box, he was always larger than life.

They started playing sports together in second grade. They played everything — baseball, basketball, football, even soccer — and no matter what the sport, Box excelled.

“The best athlete,” Colton Chelf remembered. “The biggest athlete.”

Younger brother, Clint, said, “He was literally a star.”

Adults were mesmerized by the kid's ability. So were the boys who teamed with him. Even as Box dominated, he would be the one in the dugout or the huddle cracking jokes.

He made everything look easy.

LaBrue, who along with Colton Chelf was in the same graduating class as Box at Enid High, remembers a playoff game their senior season. The Plainsmen faced a pressure-packed fourth and inches, but with a battering ram of a quarterback in Box, all they needed was a quarterback sneak.

Sure enough, the call for the sneak came from the sideline.

But when Box snapped the ball, he faked the sneak instead and sprinted around the end of the line.

“He went 20 yards for a touchdown,” LaBrue marveled.

The Chelf brothers shook their heads at the memory.

“It wasn't like we were playing someone terrible,” Clint chimed it. “This was the playoffs.”

They chuckled.

“He was impressive.”

After high school, Box went to OU while LaBrue, an offensive lineman, headed to Missouri State and Colton Chelf, a wide receiver, headed to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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