"People say leadership is a lot of different things, but when it comes down to it, it is a really abstract term that has a different meaning to everyone. I think guys want to follow the guy who is going to put them in the endzone. That is my goal."
-- David Ash, August 2012
Known as a steady player who doesn't often show a great deal of emotion, Texas Longhorns quarterback David Ash has come under criticism at times for his lack of demonstrative leadership, a quality that one-time competitor Case McCoy unquestionably possesses.
As much as Ash respects the process and understands the steps towards improvement, his comments last fall also show that he understood intuitively that he couldn't become the leader of the Texas football team until he generated results on the field.
"Ultimately it comes through success. It's hard to believe in someone who hasn't had success. But David has had success. I think the guys started to believe in him last year."
-- Major Applewhite, Texas co-offensive coordinator, playcaller
Those words to the Statesman revealed that Applewhite has a similar perspective on leadership as his starting quarterback.
And it's not surprising Ash started to earn some of that needed belief last year, given the game-winning drives against Oklahoma State and Oregon State, when Ash was calm and unflappable under pressure, the type of steadiness that reassures his teammates in those big moments.
There was even some emotion, too, when Ash spiked the ball following his game-changing touchdown on a quarterback draw that included a final vault into the endzone, a rare display of intensity from a player whose emotions rarely churn in a visible manner.
"Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control."
-- Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys football coach
Presence in the huddle is one of the areas often scrutinized with quarterbacks. For the young ones, it can be difficult to walk into a huddle with experienced players and command their respect without having backed it up on the football field.
The story goes that Colt McCoy got so intimidated at times in his redshirt freshman season in 2006 by offensive line stalwarts like Kasey Studdard that Texas went to a no-huddle offense at times just so McCoy wouldn't have to command the huddle.
After McCoy's record-setting career, after he went through his last two seasons as a Longhorn without any real questions facing his leadership ability, it's a bit hard to remember that the Jim Ned product had to endure skepticism about those qualities that were similar to those facing the current Texas starter.
"I see him being more comfortable on the field, not as uptight and not as antsy in the huddle."
Of course, Texas won't be huddling as much in 2013 with the switch to a no-huddle offense they will employ unless they are ahead late in games and want to kill the clock. And in those situations, Ash shouldn't have any difficulties handling himself.
Even if Ash can improve with his handling of the huddle, when the 'Horns actually chose to use it, the playcaller doesn't believe that the team is crying out for Ash to take over as the sole and unquestioned leader.
"I don't think guys are foolish enough to know that the four games we lost last year were because of his play. I think that word (leadership) is thrown a lot around David, and I think it's a lot of wasted conversation. Our team's not looking at him like, ‘Take us, lead us, go.' I think they want David to play well and be consistent."
The consistency still needs some work for Ash, even if the losses against West Virginia, Oklahoma, and TCU weren't all on him, as Applewhite says the team believes. The playing well part was there for the most part -- it's hard to rank in the top 20 in passing efficiency without doing a lot of things right.
And in terms of those all-important touchdowns? McCoy accounted for a handful on his drives, but the total of 58 offensively in 2012 was nearly 50% more than the 40 Texas scored in 2011.
Call that success for Ash, a big part of the reason why Applewhite isn't worried right now. Both agree on what it takes to be the leader at quarterback in Austin and it amounts to scoring touchdowns, something Ash has proven that he can do at a level only TCU's Casey Paschall has proven he can match in the rest of the Big 12.
Everything else, as Applewhite puts it, is just "wasted conversation."