Austin Box is gone. Those are four words I never expected to write. After all, 22-year-old football stars are too full of life. We see them on the gridiron with their teammates, celebrating big plays and living life to its fullest. We don’t imagine having to talk about them in the past tense.

Sure, I expected to write about Box this season, but not in this manner.

One can really never be fully prepared for tragic news. Even those with an iron constitution have a hard time dealing with news of the type that hit Enid on Thursday. People who knew Box were speechless and some were moved to tears, unable to get the words out.

Box had a career that made him an Enid legend. He led the Plainsmen to the 2006 state championship game, earned all-state honors. He was not only rated the No. 1 prospect out of Oklahoma but was ranked nationally as a top-50 recruit by Rivals.com coming out of high school.

Yes, he had his whole life ahead of him.

Box recorded 37 tackles last season for the Sooners and appeared to be on his way back from a back injury that plagued him throughout his collegiate career. He had the inside track for a starting position at linebacker for OU, but it all ended in tragedy Thursday in El Reno.

According to the official report of a responding officer for the El Reno Police Department, a 911 call came in about an unresponsive person, later identified as Box, at the home of J.T. Cobble. Upon arrival, CPR was being administered by Cobble but it apparently was too late. Box eventually was flown to Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City. The officer’s report indicated Cobble told him he believed Box had overdosed. Under offense category, the officer listed “Controlled Dangerous Substance.”

There will be plenty of questions to be answered in Box’s death. Did he overdose? If so, was it related to his coping with a painful back injury? The biggest question will be what steps, if any, could have been taken to prevent this tragedy.

But this is not a time for recriminations. It is a time for reflection and remembrance.

I never had the opportunity to see Box play at Enid High School. I arrived in Enid in 2008, a little more than a year after he graduated. People I have talked to had nothing but praise for the young man’s abilities on the field. More than one person told me he was one of the fiercest competitors they have ever seen. Now, in a flash, he is gone.

Nobody can offer enough comforting words to the Box family in this most difficult time.

Austin Box lived a brief, but full life. He earned a full-ride to one of the finest schools in the nation and played for one of the most-storied football programs in America, performing in high-profile games.

In last season’s Bedlam game, we ran a large photo of Box after he pulled down a critical interception against Oklahoma State. The look on his face was pure joy. That’s the Austin Box I will remember.

Dave Ruthenberg is sports editor at the Enid News & Eagle and writes for CNHI News Service. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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