AUSTIN — Sporting a shaggy and unkempt mop-top, David Ash doesn’t even look like the same shy and tentative freshman who threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last season.
Though a haircut wouldn’t hurt.
Sitting tall as he faced the media for the first time since being named Texas’ starting quarterback heading into Saturday’s season opener against Wyoming, the 6-foot-3 Ash expressed an aura of confidence not seen since he was the star attraction at Belton.
“I’ve always expected I’d be ‘the guy,’” Ash said Monday from Bellmont Hall, inside of Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. “I’m thankful that the coaches have given me the opportunity, and I’m just going to go compete as hard as I can.”
Now a full-fledged sophomore entering his second season within the Longhorns’ complicated system, Ash has embraced his role as Texas’ unquestioned offensive commander.
“He’s much more of a competent and aggressive young man than you would think,” Longhorns head coach Mack Brown said. “He’s not shy, he’s not bashful. He’s aggressive. He’s not the shy, quiet freshman that people think.”
After being thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season, Ash flashed glimpses of his ability during six starts despite often exchanging series with redshirt sophomore Case McCoy. Ash finished the year with four touchdowns and eight interceptions, but proved his ability enough to play the entire Holiday Bowl, throwing for 142 yards on 14-of-23 passing with one touchdown.
But in spite of his final salvo, the Texas coaches maintained all offseason that the starting quarterback job was still a toss-up between Ash and McCoy, the younger brother of beloved former Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy.
Whether it was a natural maturation process or the result of more deliberate adjustments he’s made, Ash’s growing grasp of co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin’s offense and his ability to make proper reads impressed the Longhorn coaches enough for Brown to name him the starter late last week.
“The concerns we had with David last year were that he tried to make every play, and if there was something that wasn’t there, he’d try to force it and it ended up being a turnover,” Brown said. “That’s the biggest thing now, he’s dropping the ball off so much better, he’s not forcing it, and I think that’s the confidence of not trying to win the game every play. Trust your other players, if you throw it to a back in the flat, and he may score.”
Ash credited some of the change to his growth as a leader.
“For me, it’s just doing my job day in and day out, coming out with a competitive attitude, ready to practice hard and show my team the way a championship team prepares every day,” Ash said. “Sometimes you have to talk, and I do whenever the situation calls for it, but mostly it’s just bringing a presence into the huddle, acting like you know what you’re doing and inspiring confidence in your teammates.”
And according to several teammates inside that huddle, Ash is becoming the field general he so often showed leading Belton to back-to-back playoff trips.
“It all goes from the top down and David is the top,” said junior right guard Mason Walters. “We look to him in the huddle. It’s his ball team and he is managing it.”
Added junior left guard Trey Hopkins: “He stepped up a lot being young last year, but now he’s coming in with great conviction in everything he does. ... And that confidence just trickles down to the rest of the offense.”
Brown has said both quarterbacks could see playing time Saturday. Regarding what kind of leash to expect if Ash or McCoy struggles, Brown made it clear that it’d be a case-by-case decision based on who coaches believe will give the team the best chance to win at any given moment.
“But David’s the starter and he’ll be the guy to go out there and hopefully take us to a victory,” Brown said.