AUSTIN, Texas -- David Ash no longer looks over his shoulder or even to his left or right.
Instead, everybody else is looking right at him. The junior is Texas’ quarterback now. And, because of that, he is also the team’s leader.
"There’s no other guy to do it now," Ash said. "It’s all on my shoulders and it is my responsibility and I’m for sure going to take that seriously."
Of that there is little doubt. Ash is a worker. Reared bailing hay and throwing footballs, he has always been of the belief that sweat drips along the path to success. But the role he has chosen now demands more. A quarterback must lead. Ash has only inconsistently done so in the past.
Maybe that was, in part, because of youth. Few become leaders as freshmen and sophomores.
Undoubtedly the trap door he danced over as he played those first two seasons contributed to his inability to find a foothold as a leader as well.
Now those obstacles have been removed. Ash stands on solid ground with knowledge and history at his sides, talent laid out before him and expectations within arm’s reach.
For Ash, and Texas, to grasp those expectations, the quarterback must first comprehend what it means to be the leader of this team. It’s not a difficult concept, although it can be a difficult one to master, particularly when the natural instinct is not inherent.
Make no mistake, Ash is not Patton. There are players on this Texas team who have been gifted with leadership ability, players who with their words and actions can inspire. And to be successful as a leader, a player has to have both qualities. That’s particularly true if that player is the quarterback.
Quarterback is not a lead-by-example position, not to mention the fact that stoicism, Ash’s go-to emotion, is lost on most 18- to 22-year-old players.
And this is where Ash will be tested. He measures his words and marks his emotions. That is his nature. Now there have been times when Ash has let both fly. The fourth quarter against Oklahoma State, for example. The same held true in the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl.
In both cases, Ash played and told those around him to do the same. He was equal parts calculating and carefree and in being so created a dynamic that was engaging and successful.
For Texas to be successful, those brief flickers will have to spark something much brighter as Ash and his team -- emphasis on "his" -- move through the summer. It appears as if Ash understands that.
"It’s up to me to do that," he said when asked about leadership.
Again there is a gulf between understanding and doing. To help bridge that expanse, Ash has finally been given the tools with which to work.
Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, in naming Ash the starter long before spring, allowed Ash to try on the role of leader with the coaches’ blessings for a month. The desired result was to not-so-subtly let the team know that as they move through the summer, Ash had the coaches’ confidence and he should have the players’ confidence as well.
Had Texas made this move a year ago instead of hemming and hawing between two players despite not allowing one of those players, Case McCoy, to throw a single pass in the Holiday Bowl, Texas and Ash might be ahead of schedule on the whole learning to be a leader thing.
Alas, everything is bigger in Texas, including the mistakes.
So now Texas and Ash are in the position where neither can make very many of those mistakes. This year, after all, is supposed to be the salve for those oh-so-many burns suffered at the hands of Oklahoma and others from 2010-12.
Coach Mack Brown has been pointing to 2013 as the year where things change. Or, maybe, get back to the standard that Texas fans had grown so accustomed to during the boom years of the previous decade.
But while Brown has been pointing at the record book, redemption and his reputation, everyone else is now pointing their fingers right at Ash, including the quarterback himself because, as Ash said, "There’s no other guy to do it now."