Connor Choate grew up in Enid idolizing Austin Box.
This week, Choate became the first recipient of the Austin Box Memorial Scholarship.
“I really looked up to him, like every other kid around here did,” said Choate, a senior at Enid High School who will attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall. “In Enid, he was absolutely iconic.”
Box, who was Oklahoma’s starting middle linebacker, passed away last May after ingesting a lethal combination of prescription drugs. Earlier this year, the Box family established the Austin Box “12” Foundation. The first move the foundation made was to annually award a one-time $3,000 college scholarship to an outgoing senior at Enid, Box’s high school alma mater.
“We were looking for somebody that exemplified Austin’s best characteristics and embodied who he was,” said Box’s older sister, Whitney, an OU graduate who works in Enid's city planning department. “Connor was the perfect candidate.”
From a larger pool of applicants, seven Enid students were interviewed by Whitney, as well as two of Austin's best friends, Matthew Athey and John Dillingham. Because Box loved quoting movies, each student had to submit their favorite movie quote, too.
“Austin always had a great sense of humor,” Whitney said. “So if you didn’t laugh during the interview, it didn’t bode well for you.”
Choate, who plans to major in energy management at OU, laughed plenty during his interview. But Wednesday after his name was called during the scholarship announcement, Choate was brought to tears.
“I’m not going to lie, I cried a little bit,” he said. “When Austin’s dad (Craig Box) told the back story about Austin and what the scholarship meant, it really struck me.”
While the scholarship will be an annual staple, the Box family has a larger vision for the “12” Foundation. Box’s mom Gail, a high school counselor at Enid High, is planning to retire from her job next year and travel around the state to talk to kids about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
“If the foundation can save one life,” Whitney said, “it will be worth it.”