By Robert Wilson

       Three years ago, Chuck Box was coaching high school baseball and trying to win a MAIS state championship.

       This weekend, Box will try to help win a College World Series national championship.

       The former Jackson Prep and Hartfield Academy head coach is in his third season as the director of player and program development for Texas A&M, which plays Tennessee in a best of three series for the national championship this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska.
       Game 1 is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Central (ESPN and ESPN plus), Game 2 Sunday at 1 p.m. Central (ABC and ESPN plus) and Game 3, if necessary, Monday at 6 p.m. Central (ESPN and ESPN plus). 

       Box’s positive influence in helping Texas A&M reach the mountain top of college baseball doesn’t come as any surprise from Box’s former administrators, assistant coaches, and players. 

         Box left Hartfield when first-year Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle – who Box had a long relationship with since Schlossnagle’s days as head coach at Texas Christian University – asked Box to join his staff in College Station. Schlossnagle led TCU to five College World Series, including four straight from 2014-2017. Box and Schlossnagle met through a mutual friend years ago and kept in touch over the years. Schlossnagle is one of 14 coaches who have now taken multiple teams to the CWS.

Chuck Box Hartfield
Chuck Box at Hartfield Academy photo by: Bob Smith

       “My job is to help each player, coach and staff member become the very best version of themselves,” Box said. “I work closely with Coach Schlossnagle on every aspect of the program, and I am the liaison to high school coaches, facilities, academics, nutrition, and assist with recruiting.”

       Box’s influence on the players and coaches helped carry Texas A&M to the CWS for the second time in three years. The Aggies are the No. 3 national seed and have a 52-13 record going into the national championship series. It is the most wins since Texas A&M won 52 games in 1999. The Aggies have never won a national championship in baseball.

       Two years ago, Texas A&M was a No. 5 national seed and made its first CWS appearance since 2017. The Aggies made a dramatic turnaround after finishing 29-27 overall, 9-21 in the SEC and last in the SEC West in 2021. Texas A&M finished with a 44-20 overall record and 19-11 in the SEC in 2022, second best in the league to No. 1 national seed Tennessee.

       “I grew up dreaming of being in the College World Series,” Box said. “To fulfill that dream in incredible.”

       Now, he has done it twice, and is two wins from winning a national championship this season. 

       “I’ve coached for 31 years, and this is one of my favorite teams I’ve been a part of,” Box said. “They are such a joy to be around every day. They love each other. They don’t care who gets the credit, and they play for each other.”

       One of Box’s favorite players on this year’s team is Madison Central alumnus and All-American outfielder Braden Montgomery, who transferred this year from Stanford after helping the Cardinal to two consecutive CWS appearances. Montgomery injured his ankle in the Super Regionals, had surgery last week and is out for the CWS. He is expected to be a Top 10 pick in the Major League Baseball draft on July 14.

Chuck Box TAMU
OXFORD, MS – May 11, 2024 – Director of Player and Program Development Chuck Box of the Texas A&M Aggies during the game between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Texas A&M Aggies at Swayze Field in Oxford, MS. Photo By Ethan Mito/Texas A&M Athletics

       “Braden is amazing,” Box said. “Everyone know about the player he is. Uber talented. First rounder. But he is also a beautiful human being with such a great spirit. Braden is so kind and thoughtful to everyone. I’m grateful to have spent this year with him.”

Box went to Texas A&M after four years at Hartfield where he had two state championship runner-up finishes. He guided the Hawks to a school record 35 victories and only four losses and their second appearance in the MAIS Class 4A state championship series in 2021. Hartfield lost its first two games of the season to Starkville Academy and MAIS Class 5A state champion Prep before going on their school record 34-game winning streak. Hartfield fell three wins short of tying the MAIS record of most consecutive wins in a season, 37 set by Magnolia Heights in 2013. Before coming to Hartfield, Box won 283 games and six state championships in 10 seasons at Prep.

Box has more than a decade of college experience. He was the head coach at Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University and Itawamba Community College for a combined 11 seasons where he won 363 games. Box, a 1991 Freed-Hardeman graduate and a 2010 Freed-Hardeman Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, guided his alma mater to a 44-10 record and a TranSouth Conference regular season championship and was ranked as high as No. 7 the national NAIA coaches poll in 1997. He also led Itawamba to a No. 1 national ranking in 2000 and a state junior college championship. 

Even though Box is several hours away from Mississippi, he stays in touch with his friends back home.

“I really miss my Jackson people,” Box said. “We had an amazing 15 years there in Jackson and have so many incredible friends in Mississippi. I talk to several of them fairly often.”

Chuck Box Family

Box made his coaching stamp on Mississippi and his influence has continued after his departure to Texas. 

“I’m grateful for the work Chuck did at Hartfield,” Hartfield head of school David Horner said. “Chuck is one of the most focused and hardworking people I’ve ever worked with. His efforts during his use at Hartfield were critical in raising the standard of athletics. Chuck made an impact in many ways at Hartfield. Certainly, one of them was a tremendous improvement in our athletic facilities and baseball field specifically. He took great pride in creating one of the most beautiful baseball facilities for high schools in our area, maybe even the state. Chuck came to Hartfield during a time of tremendous growth for our school. He was here as we transitioned from 4A to 5A and eventually would lead to an extremely competitive 6A league. He also challenged our student athletes to think and expand their mindset and approach in ways they hadn’t before.

“Chuck played a major part and positive role in preparing Justin Smith for the role he has now as our head coach. They’re different coaches with different styles, but it’s impossible to be around Coach Box as an assistant and not be impacted.”

“Coach Box is the best,” said Smith, who was Hartfield’s associate head coach for three seasons with Box before taking over last season. “He is one of the main reasons I stayed in coaching when I got started. He took the time to mentor me in the areas of coaching that most don’t think about by just playing and knowing the game. Ultimately, working with Coach Box equipped me with skills and knowledge that one could not require elsewhere. I’m just thankful for the time that I was blessed with to have worked with Coach Box. He and I talk once or twice a week. It’s great to have that connection now with an SEC staff. I’m always curious on certain baseball things how they do it or if there is something new or creative that I can do at the high school level. For me, knowing Coach Box and knowing a little about the staff at Texas A&M, I am not surprised that they are in the College World Series for the second time and playing for the national championship.”

“Coach Box was a huge impact in my life, not just from a baseball standpoint,” said Colton Bradley, who played for Box and graduated from Hartfield in 2022. “He’s one of those guys that you love to be on your team and hate playing against him. I know this from experience because when I was playing at East Rankin Academy, I always dreaded playing against Coach Box. One of my favorite things about Coach Box is that if you ask him a question, he is going to tell you straight up. I remember in the 10th grade, Coach Box sat me down and told me that I needed to learn how to hit, or I would never make it in college baseball. And it seemed to work because next year he finally told me I was a college hitter.”

“Coach Box is a player’s coach,” said Lincoln Sheffield, who like Bradley also played for Box and graduated from Hartfield in 2022. “He’s not only one of the best high school coaches, he also is a mentor to all his players. He cared a lot about how we grow as men through our years in his program. Coach Box is that coach that always is at the school doing something to try to better the program. You could go up there on a Sunday at 4 and he would be sitting in his office working on a plan for practiced a month from now. He always would work with his players. You could text him and ask to get some ground balls or something and he would say yes. Coach Box really is someone I can trust and look up to because he has experience in the baseball world, and he wants to help and he’s going to be honest. He’s helped me in baseball a lot. I believe Coach Box is the most influential coach in my baseball career and I wouldn’t be as far along as I am without him to help me over the years.”

“I would not be the coach I am or where I am if not for the leadership and mentor that Coach Box has been to me and so many others,” said Prep coach Brent Heavener, who played for Box at Itawamba CC and coached with Box at Prep. “He is a great coach and mentor to me, but he is a better friend off the field. He was at my wedding, the day my little girl was born and my dad’s funeral. Chuck is one of the hardest working men I have been around. But in the true end, he loved his players and always wanted what was best for us. Winning championships was just a bonus for Chuck. Watching his players become men were more important than wins. If I ever need to bounce something off of him, he is always available and makes time to talk. I am forever grateful of the friendship and bond we have built over the years, and I am also so proud of him.”

       Former Prep and Mississippi State outfielder Jake Mangum, the career SEC hits leader who is now playing for the Class AAA Durham Bulls in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, is a big Box fan.

       “Coach Box means so much to the guys who played for him,” Mangum said. “My four years with him (2012-15) were awesome, winning three state championships together. No one is more prepared than Coach Box. He dominates the details and that’s what makes him different. He works tirelessly and has his guys’ backs. I will forever call him a dear friend and mentor.”

       Former Prep and Alabama outfielder and TCU first baseman Gene Wood, who finished with Mangum in 2015 and was coached by Box, was always impressed with his high school coach’s preparation.

       “One word that comes to mind would be prepared,” said Wood, who still holds the Prep school record with a .606 batting average. “There was not a coach that I knew or played for that was more prepared than Coach Box from the practice, itinerary, training programs, and game stats. He had everything down to the detail. I believe that is the reason the pace and speed of practice my first fall at Alabama wasn’t as big of a jump compared to others.

“As a whole, what truly encapsulates Coach Box was that he cared for his players. He truly cared. That stood true even post-graduation. He was the main reason TCU even wanted me in the first place. He and Coach (Bill) Mosiello at TCU are great friends. Coach Box knew I was looking to grad transfer, and the next time he talked to Coach Mosiello, Coach Box brought up my name when Mosiello mentioned they were looking for a first baseman. Box fully knew that I had never played first base in my life but told TCU that I could play first base. He stuck his neck out for me and it turned out to be a great final chapter of my career. And for that, I am forever grateful.”