Ash confident, ready to lead in third year

DALLAS -- If quarterback David Ash has the kind of junior season Texas coach Mack Brown is hoping for, they’ll both have a December discussion about Tom Brady to thank.

That heart-to-heart conversation fueled Ash’s revelatory second-half performance in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon. It propelled him toward an offseason that made him more determined and self-assured.

And it might be the reason you see a new Ash take the field for Texas this fall, a third-year starter poised to truly begin leading his team and the Longhorns program with confidence.

Ash found himself at a crossroads last December. He’d had a good season, all in all, but not good enough. The public has long judged him by his worst games and not his best ones, and the rougher games of 2012 still stung.

Another embarrassing blowout loss to Oklahoma. Getting benched at Kansas. Trying and failing to play through broken ribs suffered eight plays into a Thanksgiving loss to TCU. Watching the Kansas State loss from the sidelines.

The time was right for Brown to sit down with Ash and tell him, as truthfully as possible, what needed to happen next.

“I remember it vividly,” Ash said. “The first thing he said is, who is your favorite pro quarterback?”

Ash chose Brady because, well, he’s good. That’s not enough, Brown pointed out. People love the New England Patriots quarterback because they believe in him. They believe he’ll win any game.

“He said, ‘You have to make your teammate buy into you just like everyone buys into Tom Brady,' " Ash recalled. “’You have to do something that makes them think something good is about to happen.’ ”

This was as much about Ash’s demeanor as his play. The days of being young and quiet were about to end. Brown needed him to recognize it was time to take the next step.

“In the meeting, we said, ‘You need to pick it up. You need to play better. You’ve got to be more aggressive, more confident, got to make more plays with your feet,’ ” Brown said.

Ash knows he’ll never be a cheerleader type, but he recognizes his influence is now a critical one. Two years of ups and downs have given him enough experience to believe his voice is valuable.

“I think I’ve seen everything at this point,” Ash said. “I’ve played good vs. good teams, bad vs. good teams. I’ve played bad vs. bad teams. I’ve seen the whole spectrum. Hopefully, through that, I can go into situations and prepare myself to play all those games well and help my teammates play well.”

The seven months since his last start have seemingly been transformative, and the emboldended Ash that Texas offensive lineman Trey Hopkins witnessed at halftime of the Alamo Bowl is one he can’t wait to play with this fall.

Texas trailed 20-10, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way the starting quarterback carried himself that night.

“You could feel it was turning around,” Hopkins said. “David really set off his leadership skills right then. He was going to turn it around. It was not anything he said -- it was just his demeanor. Never for a second could you see doubt in his eyes. Never for a second could you see frustration.

“It was a sense of calm and urgency that we’re going to get this done because we have the capability of doing it. That’s the kind of confidence he’s taken into the offseason, and it’s spread throughout the team.”

Ash credited time spent with Vince Young in the spring and Colt McCoy in the summer for giving him further perspective. Young stressed leadership and being more visible and available to teammates. McCoy helped with footwork and fundamentals.

But it is experience -- good and bad -- that has guided the quarterback who showed up to Big 12 media days on Tuesday. Now that he has the full faith of Brown and new quarterbacks coach and play-caller Major Applewhite, and now that there’s little need to look over his shoulder, Ash isn’t afraid to open up.

He was introspective as he reflected Tuesday upon how far he’s come and where he stands today. His leadership qualities have been questioned for the past year, but he understands now where he fits on this team.

“If I didn’t have any respect and I got up and yelled and screamed at somebody, they’d probably be like, ‘Who are you? You haven’t done anything,’ ” Ash said. “With my experience at Texas, I have enough of a pedigree to earn the respect. When I say something, people listen.”

He organized 7-on-7 workouts and says he formed deeper bonds with his teammates this summer. Respect was earned, not discussed.

“I think they respect someone who hasn’t quit,” Ash said. “I had a rough freshman year. Tough situation. Played some bad games, broke my ribs. Didn’t play the last game. We somehow pull out a victory vs. Oregon State. And I didn’t quit. My teammates never quit on me. I think that says something about our team and where we’re are, I think we can take confidence in that.”

This is the quarterback Brown sought in December, back when his starting quarterback needed to know just how great he could become.

Ash doesn’t have to be Brady-good. This year, just being himself might be good enough.