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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

But by the fall of 2009, all of the Enid boys had taken up sides in the Bedlam battle. LaBrue and Colton had transferred to OSU while Clint, a quarterback, had signed with the Cowboys.

For the next two years, the barbs flew any time the Enid Cowboys crossed paths with the Enid Sooner. Box always loved to do his tongue-in-cheek impersonation of OSU's pseudo-battle cry, “Here comes Bullet!”

Last spring, though, the Bedlam talk turned serious. They realized this season's game was going to be something big. It would be the last time they'd play against each other — Box, LaBrue and Colton Chelf all being fifth-year seniors — but it would be a battle of great teams, too.

“We both knew we were going to have a good year,” LaBrue said.

Then early on a Thursday morning in mid-May, Clint Chelf got a text message from a friend in Enid.

She'd heard that Austin Box had died.

Within a couple hours, the worst had been confirmed. Box died after ingesting a lethal does of prescription medications.

LaBrue jumped in his car as soon as he heard the news. He just had to be there for Box's parents, so he drove from Stillwater to Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City.

He remembers little from his time at the hospital. There were hugs. There were tears. Lots of tears.

The same was true when a bunch of Box's friends gathered together later that night.

“I just remember everybody kind of looking at each other,” LaBrue said.

No one knew what to say.

What could you say?

“It was shocking,” Clint Chelf said.

This football season has brought unexpected reminders of Box. Stories in the newspaper or television. Mentions during OU games.

Then there was the game video that the Cowboys watched during Bedlam week. To get ready for the Sooner defense, the Cowboy offense watched clips of last year's Bedlam game.

And there on the screen, their buddy came to life again. Box was running around, making tackles, playing like they always remembered.

“That was really weird,” Clint Chelf said.

LaBrue said, “It was really hard.”

All of the Enid boys found themselves watching Box. They'd struggle to take their eyes off him. A coach would ask them a question about the defense, and they'd have no answer.

Still, the reminders of their friend haven't all been bad. These Cowboys appreciated the Sooners' decision to honor Box by having a different defensive player wear his No. 12 each game.

“I like seeing guys in his jersey,” LaBrue said.

It has helped them heal. Helped them remember. Helped them realize they aren't alone in their grief.

Turns out, there are players on both side of the Bedlam divide playing with heavy hearts over the death of Austin Box.

“It shows that those guys,” Clint Chelf said, “felt the same about him as us.”