A little more than four years ago, I walked up to my first high school 7-on-7 event in Cedar Park to see perfect spirals traveling through the early morning haze of what was about to be an exceptionally hot day.
Though it was only in warm ups, the arm strength and passing ability of Belton quarterback David Ash were on full display. But the indelible memory of Ash on that day was him standing on the sideline by himself between series, working on his wrist snap flipping the ball into the air.
Flip. Catch. Rinse. Repeat.
It was meditative, just Ash and the football and the perfect spiral, every time.
When Ash was six years old, a football was his ever-present companion.
Unwilling to wait for his father to unlock the car after the church, Ash would stash one in a bush outside the 15th Street Church of Christ in Temple.
"I had to maximize the time I could play with it," he said on Monday in a media availability. "I would wear my play clothes underneath my church clothes, so I would be ready to go; snatch the ball out of the bush and I was ready to go."
For David Ash, football was life and he pursued it with a single-minded relentlessness always evident in his crisp mechanics and a frame that eventually carried over 230 pounds, proof positive of his hard work in the weight room.
So coming to the decision to walk away from it was something he had to come to on his own terms.
Doctors didn't tell him not to play, though they told him that they wouldn't let their own sons continue playing. Head coach Charlie Strong didn't tell him not to play, even though he had already come to the determination that Ash wouldn't suit up for the Longhorns again.
"I just prayed a lot about it," Ash said of his decision to retire. "The decision, it was I think the process of it all, the doctors and coaches, were all-I think they all pretty much knew I wasn't going to be able to play. But they never told me that because I think they knew if I just took it away like that, it would have probably jolted me, and so we went through due process and it helped me understand why. I'm really thankful for that and I'm at peace with that, because the questions are answered and I have an answer for all the reasons. God has given me peace, and so I have a lot of hope and I have a lot of belief that there are still awesome days ahead of me."
After playing the entire game against North Texas, the first full game he had played since suffering the first concussion of his career against BYU in the second game of 2013, Ash started suffering from headaches and dizziness and called the trainers late that night.
When the news became public, it was clear that Ash would never play football again.
Speaking for the first time since before the opener, Ash reflected on the game against North Texas.
"It was all kind of blurry," said Ash. "Exactly sort of how it went, I ended up calling the doctors later that night and saying, you know, I'm feeling some symptoms. Went back and watched the game, and I didn't really look like myself during the game. The symptoms kind of got worse the next day and the next day. So yeah, that's kind of how it went."
Other than the previous concussions, the fact that Ash didn't take any particularly hard hits during the game -- just normal football plays -- was another major sign that his career was over.
"The real deal about the North Texas game is, I really didn't get hit," Ash said. "I didn't get a vicious blow."
More than anything else, that was the death knell for his career, though the headaches and dizziness that plagued him for about a week afterwards certainly ensured that he would never play football again.
But Ash said that he enjoyed the experience and was grateful to play in one last full game at Texas after working so hard to come back.
Having already made his decision to walk away from the game that has defined so much of his existence, Ash was back in Belton last weekend visiting his family. As usual, he went back to the 15th Street Church of Christ.
The bush is still there.
There wasn't any need to stash a football in it, to race off to send it spiraling through the air, carrying with it the dreams of a future doing exactly that.
It was a time to reflect. And to cry.
"I've met my quota for crying for the next 10 years," he said.
But don't cry for David Ash. It sounds like he's done enough of that himself, but more importantly, he wants to be remembered for being more than a football player.
"I'd like people to remember me for what's on the inside," Ash said. "My faith -- not my football."
What's next for David Ash?
"Maybe I'll get a girlfriend," he said, flashing the trademark sense of humor that defined his meetings with the media.
"He needs one!" cracked senior cornerback Quandre Diggs on Twitter.
As Ash works on that, he'll be working towards graduating in December, at which point he'll enroll in graduate school and go on medical scholarship for his last season of eligibility.
Whatever does come next after that, he will pursue it without regrets and will surely do so with the same intensity and passion with which he always pursued his football career.
He will do it with a sense of humor, with a sense of humility, and, above all, with his unwavering faith as his mainstay.
And, hopefully, he will do it without any lingering effects from the three concussions he suffered in less than a year. He joked on Monday that he was always this slow and said he expects to have a clean bill of health in the near future.
A future that won't carry with it the worry of knowing an opponent's blitz tendencies in the red zone, worry he says he will probably come to miss.
For a player whose career will always ultimately be defined by wondering what he could have accomplished had he been able to stay healthy, his ability to move forward with perspective and groundedness is a truly special quality.
"I had a lot of goals, goals I still believe fully that had I remained healthy, I would have gotten to accomplish those," he said. "But there's so much still, there's so much good life out there besides football. I'm really excited to put time in those things now."
For a player worthy of sympathy because of the circumstances surrounding the end of his career, sympathy isn't something that he needs.
There are awesome days ahead for David Ash.