Austin Box's family assisting probe

Updated: September 1, 2011, 11:37 AM ET
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- The parents of Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box say they have information that could help police investigating his death last spring from an apparent drug overdose.

Craig and Gail Box told The Associated Press there were "stark" text messages on their son's cell phone that suggest at least two people know who was supplying him with some of his pain pills before his death last May 19 at the age of 22.

[+] EnlargeAustin Box
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAustin Box was expected to be the Sooners' starting middle linebacker in 2011 in what would have been his senior season.

"It's evident what the discussion is," said Craig Box, an attorney who would not identify who sent the messages but said it wasn't anyone tied to the team. "All I can say is that learning of one person's involvement has been very devastating to our family. It was somebody close to Austin."

The Boxes have turned the information over to police, who will not discuss their investigation.

Box suffered sports injuries for years, dating to high school. An autopsy found the painkillers oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam in Box's system, and cited "mixed drug toxicity" as a probable cause of death. Investigators couldn't find any legal prescriptions on file for the drugs Box took.

How could Box fall prey to painkiller addiction with a caring, attentive family, not to mention the host of coaches and trainers at one of the nation's elite college football programs?

The answer, it seems, is that he was good at hiding a problem. And neither his parents nor anyone at Oklahoma could suggest a safety net that might have caught it.

Oklahoma has a psychological resources department specifically for athletes that offers counseling on substance abuse and other topics. The school performs its own drug tests, besides separate tests performed by the Big 12 and by the NCAA during postseason play.

The school will not discuss the results of Box's tests, citing confidentiality rules.

"I think we do have major steps and a lot of steps, and we do feel, 'Hey, we did all we could do," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "That being said, I wish we could have done more, had we known to do more. So, at the end, in the way this ended, there's always something you wish you'd have done more."

Box, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound senior, was found at a house in El Reno, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. Police say they were called to the home by John Cobble III, the son of Box's high school coach. Cobble was performing CPR and told police "he believed he had overdosed."

The Boxes were told at the hospital that their son had apparently taken two pills that didn't go together. Searching for answers, Gail Box went to her medicine cabinet the day after Box died to see if an old bottle of painkillers she had from a rotator cuff surgery had been emptied. She said she found no pills missing.

Craig Box, who had just spent the three-day vacation with his son, was still in shock and the pill discussion hadn't sunk in.

"I don't think I understood the seriousness of it at first," he said. "It didn't register with me."

Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione expressed concern about commenting on a case being actively investigated by police, but made clear the school had procedures intended to protect its athletes -- including those who are injured.

"Our university implements and provides best practices for preventive, diagnostic and rehabilitative care," he said. "An element of those best practices includes direct education, instruction, and communication with the student athlete regarding their specific care and treatment. It is then imperative that those in the care of our physicians follow their instructions carefully, just as it is for any patient in any medical circumstance."

Stoops also noted that Box was a senior familiar with warnings about substance abuse.

"A guy that's been through our program for four years has heard a lot of speakers and heard a lot of warnings and a lot of this, that and the other," Stoops said. "You can't stop your children from doing something. If they're going to do it, they're going to do it."

Kenny Mossman, an Oklahoma spokesman, said all athletes are tested for categories of drugs -- a process that would have detected the substances found in Box's toxicology report -- during their competitive season and then a minimum of 20 percent are tested out of season.

There are currently no plans to change the school's drug-testing policy in the wake of the death, Mossman said.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press