No. 1 Oklahoma honoring late LB Austin Box
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — When Landry Jones arrived at Oklahoma, he took the No. 12 jersey simply because it was the one he'd always worn.
Now, it takes on a whole new meaning.
The top-ranked Sooners plan to honor the late linebacker Austin Box this season by allowing different a defensive player to wear his No. 12 jersey for each game. Jones wears the same number on offense and says he asked Box's parents for permission to keep it.
"Talking with the Boxes, they gave me the blessing of wearing it, and it's just an honor to be in Austin's company and know he's looking down on me," said Jones, the starting quarterback. "Whenever I'm feeling weak or tired, I kind of call on him and remember the way he played the game."
Coach Bob Stoops said the team will announce each Friday who will wear Box's jersey for the upcoming game. Defensive captain Travis Lewis, who played alongside Box at linebacker the past three seasons, will handle much of the decision-making on who gets the honor, along with Jones.
"I think it's a neat way to help (parents) Craig and Gail and their family. I think when you lose somebody tragically ... or a family member, I think one of the things we fear the most is people forgetting and just kind of sweeping it under the rug," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Box's former position coach. "It happens. That's just the way it is. It kind of stinks.
"But I think that particularly being on the stage that Austin was, I'm sure it's incredibly difficult for them, particularly when the season's now back upon us," he said.
Oklahoma also plans to place decals with Box's name and jersey number on each player's helmet. The team has left his locker untouched and keeps his spot unoccupied in warmups before practice and in team meetings.
Box overdosed on painkillers in May. He was preparing to enter his senior season and was expected to be the Sooners' starting middle linebacker.
"The mindset that he brought, the attitude that he honestly brought, he wasn't a huge talker but just his actions were so loud," said punter Tress Way, also a team captain. "We would just get together and pray that we could have close to the same mindset because that would make us a better football team."
Lewis delivered an emotional speech as part of a ceremony to remember Box after training camp got started. Stoops has also shown videos and encouraged players to share stories to help in the grieving process.
Stoops said he hopes Box's family will feel welcome to continue using their season tickets and go through their usual game day routine.
"I think this is a terrific opportunity for us to help them as they continue to try to grieve and remember Austin the right way," Venables said. "I know that we feel honored to have that opportunity."
In 2008, Missouri used a similar jersey rotation to honor linebacker Aaron O'Neal, who died in a 2005 summer workout before ever playing for the Tigers. Players who would have been classmates with O'Neal took turns wearing his jersey over the last eight games of the season.
"Just the leader that Box was, we couldn't ever do it enough justice," Way said. "But we're going to try,"
Tom Wort, Box's replacement at middle linebacker, said he'd be playing for his close friend even if there weren't any tangible mementos to honor him.
"Honestly I don't need a patch on my helmet to remember my friend," he said. "I'm honoring him the best way I can, and there's not been a day that's gone by that I haven't thought about him."