Stephen Ash

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Outside of the 15th Street Church of Christ in Temple, there is an old bush with a small hole in the middle.

Every Sunday, before church, a young David Ash started his morning by hiding his football in the center of that bush, and, when church was let out, it was the first place he ran.  

Slinging off his church clothes to reveal his play clothes underneath, he and his brother, along with a few of his cousins and friends, ran routes, pretending they were future stars. While these times wouldn’t be the first or last they played football, it was likely the most memorable.

“Those times really meant a lot to us,” said Stephen Ash, David’s younger cousin who lined up with him on 15th Street. “It just meant a lot that we were together playing, and football just happened to be something we all loved.”

Even back then, David knew football was only a game. He knew he couldn’t play it forever, so he realized the importance of family and spirituality in his life, which has guided him since and, most recently, helped him make the tough decision to retire from football.

“The biggest joy I’ve had in football was doing it all for my dad,” David said. “And I dedicated my career to Jesus when I was in eighth grade, and it’s really incredible to see how far I’ve come. But my football period is ending.”

Ash grew up in a conservative home in Belton, 60 miles north of Austin, with five other siblings. Growing up, his family never watched television and only watched movies on the weekend — his favorites were “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Grinch” — so he spent most of his time outdoors.

“Instead of watching TV, we spent our time on sports,” Stephen said. “It just gave us the time to just do and learn other things. We always played football. He would make me run routes all the time with him, and even sometimes, though rarely, I got to throw it to him.”

Outside of his comfort zone, Ash is reserved around most people, but his demeanor flips around close family and friends, showing off his goofy, fun-loving side.

Friends know him best for his compassion and commitment to others.

“He is a great example of caring for others,” Stephen said. “A lot of college football players are arrogant, but not David. He’s a servant at heart. He always tried to make people feel important, and it really meant a lot to you when he took time like that.”

Ash always had a knack for football. His electric blend of talents impressed coaches at a young age and propelled him to the top of the pack. When he scored his first touchdown as a running back in Little League football, he came back to the sideline and told his cousin, “That was too easy.”

Ash attended Academy High School until his sophomore year when he transferred to Belton. When his coach Rodney Southern first saw him, he knew Ash was talented.

“The first day he walked in the school, we happened to be outside playing football during our athletic period,” Southern said. “He warmed up, and, when I first saw him throw the ball, I turned to our offensive coordinator and said, ‘That’s our starting quarterback for the next three years.’”

Over the past month, Ash has realized his football career had to end. He knows his health comes before the game, and, once again, he realized there was more to life than football.

“I had a lot of goals … [and] had I remained healthy, I would have gotten to accomplish [them],” Ash said. “But there’s so much still; there’s so much good life out there besides football. I’m really excited to put time in those things now.”

David Ash prepares to snap the ball in a recent game for the Longhorns. The freshman has started the last two games, leading Texas to a 1-1 mark. Ash began the season buried on the Texas depth chart but assumed the starting role against Oklahoma State in his sixth game.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

When David Ash was offered a scholarship to play football at the University of Texas, he didn’t hesitate to make a decision.

“We were in Coach [Mack] Brown’s office, and our whole family was there,” said Stephen Ash, David’s father. “When they offered him, he said ‘I accept.’ It was a very special time.”

If someone said Ash would become Texas’ starting quarterback two months ago, much less last February when he committed to play for the Longhorns, he or she would have been considered crazy. With junior Garrett Gilbert and sophomore Case McCoy towering over him on the depth chart, along with highly touted Connor Brewer set to join Texas in 2012, Ash’s chances to play seemed slim.

“He’s really got a single-minded focus,” Stephen Ash said. “He’s uncompromising with what he believes he should do and what should be done. I think he’s willing to give everything he’s got.”

Ash’s job was made much easier Saturday when Texas amassed 441 rushing yards and ran the ball on 72 of its 93 offensive plays. The Longhorns are relying on a run-first approach for the first time since the Vince Young era, and it’s finally paying off after futile attempts to install an effective ground game last season.

“If something’s going good, why not stay with it?” said senior guard David Snow. “That’s what we needed to do to beat Kansas. If we need to rear back and throw it, we can. David Ash has a great arm, and the receivers are good.”

At the beginning of the season, Ash’s playing time was restricted to a particular package that consisted mostly of zone-read plays. But as the year progressed, Ash’s passing workload increased with every game until he made his first career start against Oklahoma State. Ash threw 40 times against the Cowboys while only firing 18 passes against Kansas as Texas built an early lead.

“I thought he was more comfortable,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “But we want to eliminate the turnover in the red zone. We want to eliminate the sack we lost all those yards on. There’s still some mistakes that we need to clean up, but I like his presence out there.”

Ash hit some road blocks when Oklahoma State visited Austin. The freshman quarterback committed two turnovers and averaged just 3.5 yards per pass. But he bounced back nicely against the Jayhawks, going 14-for-18 and running for his first touchdown from two yards out on third and goal. Ash did, however, throw another interception and took a sack for a 20-yard loss. Such mistakes may be frustrating but are to be expected from a true freshman behind center.

“There’s probably two or three plays in there that I’ve got to eliminate,” Ash said. “Other than that, I made pretty good decisions. I was completing passes. I’m just trying to do what I’m coached to do.”

Even after Ash’s impressive showing and the fact that McCoy has spent most of the last two games wearing a headset, there is still that pesky “or” between the two quarterbacks on the depth chart. McCoy completed both of his passes against Kansas, his first throws since the Red River Rivalry last month. Both Brown and Harsin said Monday that if the Longhorns played today, Ash would start because of his performance against Kansas. They also said the quarterback competition is still open.

“We’re not in a position where we’re ready to anoint anybody as the guy,” Brown said. “We’ve got five very difficult games coming up here. We can’t afford to have a bad game at that position.”

Ash has made significant progress between his first two career starts, especially considering he went from a loss to a win, which he cited as the most significant indicator of his improvement. But for Texas to have at winning its next five games, Ash, if he remains to be the full-time starter, will have to continue to improve.

Printed on Thursday, November 3, 2011 as: Freshman quarterback assumes starting role as Longhorns continue to rebuild program