NORMAN, Okla. - On May 19th, 2011, the Sooner Nation, the state and football fans around the country were stunned with the news that star OU football player Austin Box had died.
The 22-year-old overdosed on pain medication. Opioids.
When he was on the football field, Austin Box made a painful impression on his opponents.
The linebacker from Enid was an important part of the Sooners 2010 Big 12 championship team and recorded 8 tackles in the Sooners win in the Fiesta Bowl.
The personable 22-year-old was a product of a mother who was a school counselor and his lawyer father, who was also a college football player.
“He had, I thought the best qualities of each of us,” said his dad Craig Box. “He was a very sensitive kid. Very mindful of the feelings of others. But at the same time whenever he crossed the white lines, he was very competitive.”
And it's tragically ironic that Austin’s competitive nature may have led to the addiction that ultimately ended his young promising life.
He fought through several serious injuries during his athletic career.
His mother Gail believes her son wanted to be on the field helping his teammates so badly, that he turned to opioids, or painkillers, to help him battle through the pain.
She and her husband didn’t know about the abuse until it was too late.
"He had people who would give them to him,” Gail Box says. “Or he found ways to get prescription medication prescription painkillers that were not his.”
Since her son’s death, Gail has made it her mission to ring the alarm bell about the epidemic of prescription drug abuse to all who will listen.
Especially to Oklahoma school students.
She regularly visits classrooms through the Austin Box Foundation with a program designed to warn students, teachers and parents.
And even though it’s painful and very emotional each time she talks about losing her son, she says knows she’s doing the right thing.
"If we can prevent one parent from going through the pain that we have gone through and still go through,” Gail tearfully explains, “it’s worth it."