By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUSTIN, Texas – Since being hired last December, Charlie Strong has been the name in the news about Texas football. The Longhorns’ new coach has had the eyes of UT upon him since replacing Mack Brown.
But when Year One of the Strong Era starts Aug. 30 when Texas opens against North Texas, there will be another name crucial to the Longhorns’ success: David Ash.
The junior quarterback missed most of last season with a concussion and then the last week of spring practice after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot. Ash is 14-7 as a starter but he enters the 2014 season as the team’s only experienced quarterback. Plus, he has proven capable of playing at a high level.
“When David was healthy he played very well and right now we’ve got a healthy David Ash,” Strong said Tuesday during the Big 12 Skywriters Tour visit. “You look for the quarterback to manage your offense and not turn it over and he’s doing a great job of that so far.”
Ash suffered a concussion in the second game last season and then suffered more concussion symptoms in the Kansas State game. The symptoms lingered and prevented him from playing again. There were some who wondered if his football career was over.
"A lot of people told me, 'You need to give it up, you need to quit.' Honestly, I never really thought about it," Ash said. "In my mind, I always knew I was going to play."
He was cleared for spring practice but then that turned into another hiatus when he suffered the broken foot.
“It’s made me thankful and grateful for the opportunity I have to play again,” said Ash, who in 2012 finished 21st nationally in passing effiency. “It’s not something guaranteed, it’s a privilege to go out and play ball, be with my teammates. When I was hurt, I really missed being around the guys and that’s an aspect I probably enjoy now more than anything.”
The Longhorns’ defense returns eight starters and will be expected to set the “toughness tone” for the team. Because of discipline dismissals by Strong, the offensive unit is facing depth questions at running back and wide receiver. And teams with quarterback issues and/or subpar play have trouble stacking victories.
Ash dismisses the idea that his ability to play well and stay healthy could determine UT’s success/failure chances.
“It’s a time for me to stay humble and try to do the best I can and work hard,” he said. “The pressure of the situation doesn’t make you good, you get good is the daily grind of getting better every day. And there hasn’t been a good quarterback without a good offensive line, without wide receivers and running backs helping him out.”
Strong points to secondary and offensive line as two crucial positions. “You’ve got to protect that quarterback,” he said. Texas returns just one starter – senior center Dominic Espinosa – on the offensive line.
Strong also wants Ash to consider his value when it comes to scrambling. The coach and player viewed game film where Ash opted for contact instead of self-preservation.
"He's told me I've got to get down, and he's right," Ash said. "I'm not going to take any more hits that aren't necessary."
Strong Gets Tough
Texas started preseason practiced with 75 players on scholarship, 10 below the NCAA maximum. That’s because seven players were dismissed from the team. Three others face game suspensions because of various indescretions.
“We have 85 guys on scholarship,” Strong said. “If 80 of them are doing it the right way, why can’t the rest of them do it the right way?”
Those that remain are fans of Strong’s approach.
“He has really put in his standards, made everyone recognize those standards,” Ash said. “If you don’t, he’ll make things tough until you do. He’s tough but he’s fair and he cares about the players. He wants us to graduate, to be successful husbands and fathers. It’s a good combination of being tough and caring.”
* Texas senior Miles Onyegbule told the Austin American-Statesman that he suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season. He was a backup receiver his first three seasons but moved to quarterback this spring to help with that position’s depth.
* Trivia time: No Texas coach has posted a losing season in his debut since Dana Bible went 2-6-1 in 1937. Since then, seven first-year coaches have combined for a 56-22-1 record in their debut seasons.
* Senior defensive back Quandre Diggs on the change in attitude with Charlie Strong as coach:
“You work for what you get. That’s just the way life is. In life you’re never going to be given something. You’re always going to have to work for it. That’s something we took for granted being at the University of Texas. We were given a lot. On campus, people recognize us and we stand for what the University of Texas is. We should take advantage of these opportunities that we have.”
Skywriters Tour, Year Seven
So what is the Skywriters Tour? It was born in a previous era of college football … and media/communications. In the late 1960s and 1970s, sportswriters and broadcasters would gather in a central location and embark on an annual conference-wide tour, traveling from campus-to-campus to cover preseason practices and conduct interviews with coaches and players. The tour provided fans with unprecedented daily coverage from each school by moving the group between campuses by charter bus or air service and thus was dubbed the Skywriters Tour. Since 2008, the Big 12 has revived the tradition and staged its own preseason campus tour to preview the football season.