"Did y'all miss me?"
Texas Longhorns quarter David Ash isn't known as the most outgoing of players, but he brought his sense of humor to his first media availability since he suffered a concussion against BYU last September that sidetracked almost his entire 2013 season, opening his first media availability in nearly a year with a question for the assembled beat writers.
Now healthy, or close to it, Ash was typically philosophical about his difficult year in 2013 and candid about the process that he went through when determining whether he should continue playing football.
Recently named the starter by head coach Charlie Strong at Big 12 Media Days, Ash said that the fractured foot he suffered during the spring caught him by surprise.
"I thought I was off the struggle bus, but I had to hop back on," said Ash.
Texas fans are certainly hoping that the team doesn't decide to hop back on that particular bus. Having to walk to practice isn't cause for hopping on any bus that happens to come along, after all.
For his part, Ash is ready to look towards the future instead of remain caught up in considering the past.
"It is what it is. It happened," he said of his injuries. "I'm better now. That's over and done with. We're moving on to the future."
But Ash wasn't able to move forward even to the point that he's at right now without some discussion about his concussion that featured lingering symptoms, causing many to question whether he should continue playing football.
In fact, Ash acknowledged that a number of Texas fans and other people in his life shared that opinion with him, but he said that he never seriously considered quitting the game.
"A lot of people told me you need to give it up, you need to quit," he said. "Honestly, I never really thought about it. I knew in my mind I was going to play again."
However, there were some conversations with his mom about his future.
"We had a few talks," he said. "Can you blame her? But I want to play. So I'm going to."
Calling himself "as sharp as a tack" and impressing onlookers with a physique even more chiseled than last season, Ash said that he's now healed and ready to go, ready to take that first hit to see how he responds.
"Bring it on," he said.
When that first hit comes, count Strong as among those hoping it isn't a big, direct hit allowed by his quarterback.
"I put his tape together, and some of the things I have on his tape, he will get outside the pocket and take off with the ball and try to run over a defensive back or linebacker," said Strong on Sunday.
"He would hit them front up, I would say you're a quarterback, get down, just slide underneath the guy, I need you to play the next play. I don't need to see how tough you are, if you can outrun him, outrun him, but run out of bounds, or slide or something, just don't take the hit. Man, he took like three or four hits and I just stopped it and asked what he was trying to prove and he didn't have an answer for me."
Instead of taking big hits for no particular reason, Strong merely wants Ash to manage that will likely be a relatively conservative offense that relies on strong defensive performances to win games.
So welcome to an era of Ash as a potentially cautious steward of the offense.
"I told him the only thing I need him to do is manage the offense. I don't need you to be a great player, just play within yourself...Just go manage the offense, and with Coach [Joe] Wickline and Coach [Shawn] Watson we can have a good scheme. Just play within yourself, you have enough around you. Two really good running backs, some really good wide receivers who can stretch the defenses. You have a really good player in [Jaxon] Shipley and an offensive line to protect him. Just go manage it."
Of course, there are always the leadership questions with Ash, though those have subsided somewhat as fans focus on his recent injury history. A year after talking about leadership in terms of leading the team into the end zone and scoring points, Ash had yet another take on what it means.
"Leadership is about living out your convictions."
With the Purge still fresh in the minds of Texas players and fans, the statement from Ash is highly appropriate for the direction of the program -- players with the conviction to live out the core values preached by Strong will succeed.
Add a bit more caution on the move to those convictions and throw in some luck with his health and Texas could have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference behind center this season.