Ash grows from 2011 experience

David Ash wasn't where you might find most college football players on spring break.

He was sitting on the bank of a pond in northwest Belton. While his teammates were off enjoying their vacations, Ash was fishing with his former high school offensive coordinator.

And now, five months later, David Brewer still recalls something the quarterback confessed during his one-week reprieve from the Longhorns' spring practice schedule.

"You know, at first everything was a blur," Ash told him. "The scheme, the offense, the speed of the game. But I don't know what it was … we started this spring, and it just clicked. All the sudden, it's all started to make sense."

There aren't many who could extract that kind of a confession from Ash. He's perceived as being quiet, guarded and modest.

Brewer can't reduce him like that. He helped mold the real David Ash.

Most others are not quite sure how to peg him. They'll put the weight of the Longhorns' football season on him, though.

The criticism has been repeated ad nauseam since December: This 2012 Texas team has everything. Except a great quarterback.

Maybe he doesn't have to be great.

Quite simply, Ash's first season was a struggle.

The stats don't sugarcoat it. Four touchdowns, eight interceptions. Six starts, three losses.

A medley of excuses come with the numbers. New coordinator. New offense. The injuries. The transfers. The flip-flopping.

Only one thing is clear: Ash was not ready.

He had planned to redshirt. He hadn't planned to be thrust into the starting job. He tried his best to embrace it anyway.

"Having that grace period of a redshirt, it's very valuable and that would have helped me a lot in developing," Ash admitted this past spring. "But in the situation we were in last year, that was impossible."

Then, after all the twists and turns, a turning point.

Brewer and his family were in the stands that day in December. They watched as Ash spent all but a few plays on the sideline and Baylor trounced the Case McCoy-led Longhorns 48-24.

Two weeks later, Ash was back home. Belton High held a ceremony to celebrate his induction into the school's athletic hall of fame.

Belton head coach Rodney Southern and his former quarterback were the last to leave the building that Saturday afternoon. They stood in the parking lot and caught up for the first time since Ash's tumultuous rookie year began.

Ash had good news: He was getting all the reps with the No. 1 offense in Holiday Bowl practices.

"Then you're the guy," Southern said. "Now go win the job. Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you need to be the guy."

Brewer did his best to prepare Ash for these trials.

"I knew college would eat him up if he didn't grow up," Brewer said. "So I was probably tougher on him than any quarterback I've ever coached."

The kid they called "Baby Ash" didn't get any breaks on the practice field.

Brewer hollered, fussed and cussed. He critiqued everything. Even when Ash guessed on a read and got lucky, he still got ripped.

"Sometimes I thought he was out to hurt my self-esteem," Ash said. "He was tough on me, there's no doubt. When I was a sophomore, I almost cried one day."

Brewer didn't want to see the kid waste his talent. He knew how much this mattered to Ash.

"He has goals," Brewer said. "He understands how important it is to take care of himself and not do anything to jeopardize the dreams he's had his whole life."

Still, Ash's coaches wondered how he'd handle a departure from his hometown, which has fewer than 20,000 people living there.

They didn't have to worry about his grades or whether he'd be out finding trouble on Sixth Street, but they knew that enrolling at Texas and moving to Austin -- "a new world for him," as Brewer called it -- would be something entirely different.

"I don't know if you can ever be prepared for that," Southern said. "It's Texas."

Both coaches traded texts with Ash on a near-weekly basis during the season. They did what they could to encourage him.

The advice was simple:

"You're a freshman. Don't forget that."

Now he's a sophomore. It's time to forget last year.

The next step is a tough one: leading.

Ash isn't one to yell, and he certainly won't cuss. He has to find his own way to win over the other 10 in the huddle. He needs his own brand of leadership.

It's just one of many reasons Texas coach Mack Brown has let the quarterback battle linger.

"I love the fact that if you're not really sure, if it's not clear-cut, that the guys have had to compete and lead the team all summer," Brown said.

When he wasn't with his teammates this summer, Ash was reading a book on leadership. He understands why most assume the best approach is the loudest one. That's not how he defines leadership.

"When it comes down to it, it's a really abstract term that has a different meaning to everyone," Ash said. "I think guys want to follow a guy who's going to put them in the end zone. So that's my goal."

Ash saw summer 7-on-7 sessions as an opportunity to show his character and build that faith. He figured out quickly, though, that the way he led outside the huddle was also critical.

More importantly, he thinks he's found his leadership style, his niche for rallying those around him.

To Ash, sometimes it's as simple as telling a teammate: "Hey, I like the way you're working. You're going to help us win."

"To me, that's what leadership is," he said. "It's being an encourager. It's telling guys they have what it takes to help this team."

Authenticity matters more than anything, and for Ash, it's a first step.

Now he just needs to get everybody else on his side.

"He knew in the spring that this was his team," Brewer said. "He told me, 'I don't know why they haven't come out and said I'm the guy, but I feel and the players feel like this is my team.'"

Mack Brown doesn't want to make the decision. He wants the quarterbacks to make it for him.

Despite that statement, Ash hasn't stopped taking all the reps with the No. 1 offense since December bowl practices began.

Looking back on it all, Ash believes that his biggest struggle was merely being a freshman with no experience.

"We don't expect babies to write novels," he said. "Freshman quarterbacks don't usually just break open the record books and win championships.

"But we do expect babies to grow and learn and grow up. I've had a year to grow up."

For all the pressure on Ash's shoulders, a veteran defense and an elite stable of running backs should make his role in Year 2 a simple one.

What Texas needs, plain and simple, is a signal-caller who won't make critical mistakes.

His completion percentage will need to be better than 56.8 percent. And his nine total turnovers won't work. And an improvement on his six total scores will certainly help.

Ash doesn't even really need to be a superstar. Right now, Texas doesn't need a winning starting quarterback.

Texas just needs a starting quarterback who wins.

"If it's a game manager, OK," Ash said. "If it's a touchdown thrower, OK. If it's a ball-hander-offer, that's OK, too.

"I just want to be a winner."

The job title of game manager isn't for everyone, but maybe it suits an unassuming farm boy.

But first, he has to win the job. Again.