- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is the fifth of a five-part series on Texas players with the potential to change the course of the Longhorns' 2013 season. The No. 1 player on this year's list: Junior quarterback David Ash.
AUSTIN, Texas -- There is no statistic or number that can capture what’s going to be different about David Ash this season.
We’ve flooded you with data about why four Longhorns -- Jordan Hicks, Johnathan Gray, Mike Davis and Jackson Jeffcoat -- have the potential to change everything for the Longhorns this year. With Ash, it’s just a different story.
We’ve spent most of this offseason wrestling with the season Ash had in 2012 and what it portends for his future. Maybe he’s on track to be a great quarterback, or maybe above average is all that can be expected. Pretty arbitrary stuff, all in all.
His best performances of 2012 were some of the finest Texas has seen since Colt McCoy left. His worst ones are the reason why he isn’t the preseason All-Big 12 QB or more respected nationally.
We can talk ourselves into a few narratives about Ash and his first two seasons in burnt orange.
You can choose to believe that he’ll be better in 2013 simply because he’s older and wiser. Or because a tempo offense suits him better. Or because he did some special things in the second half of the Alamo Bowl.
But this just might be the biggest difference, and the reason no stat can really tell us what’s coming next: Trust.
It’s hard to understand the predicament Ash faced last year. He wasn’t named the starter until late in fall camp. He eventually beat out Case McCoy, who’s popular among Texas players and has been in the program longer.
Did Ash look over his shoulder throughout the 2012 season? Some believe that to be the case, though in truth just three of his starts -- against Oklahoma, Kansas and TCU -- merited a potential benching in favor of McCoy.
No doubt, McCoy’s comeback victory in Lawrence raised questions. So did Ash’s regrettable decision to keep playing through injury against TCU. The week after that game, coach Mack Brown was unmistakably noncommittal when asked if Ash was his quarterback of the future.
“I see David being a good player in the future,” Brown said back on Nov. 26.
Nine months later, Texas is all-in on Ash. This offseason was devoid of quarterback controversy. He spent the spring and summer building confidence and earning the faith of his fellow Longhorns.
He dedicated himself to improving as a leader, but he cared about being authentic. He’s never going to be the rah-rah guy. But working harder never hurts, so he took steps like getting up early to join his offensive linemen for their morning running.
“That’s something Vince Young told me: You want to be visible,” Ash said. “You don’t have to be anybody you’re not, but you have to be seen.”
The head coach has his back, too. Brown believes this: If David Ash stays healthy, Texas is going to have a big season.
For most of last season, if you asked Texas players what kind of leader Ash is, they were honest. He was coming along, finding his style. A work in progress. These days, they aren’t hedging.
“Ash has picked it up,” wide receiver Mike Davis said. “Very poised, great leader. He’s doing everything an elite quarterback is supposed to be doing right now. We’ll just follow him, and he’ll take us down the glory road.”
And when it comes to Ash, a compliment like that just might tell you more than any statistic can.