Book on Ash, Gilbert far from finished but this weekend added a new chapter
This is a tale of two quarterbacks.
One, less heralded, who rose to the occasion Saturday to lead his team over a worthy, perhaps even superior opponent on the road, and another whose fall from the peaks of greatness continued at an accelerated pace on his home field.
David Ash and Garrett Gilbert. Outstanding young Christian men by all accounts, good sons and teammates – whose love for the same Burnt-Orange Maiden has perhaps assured they might never be good friends.
Gilbert, the natural, came to the University of Texas campus from nearby Lake Travis in 2009 fresh off leading the Cavaliers, undefeated to their second consecutive state title and setting the state passing record (12,534 yards) in the process. At 6-4, 220-pounds and with an elite pedigree – his father Gale was an NFL quarterback for eight seasons – he looked every inch the next great Texas signal-caller. Fans believed that the legacy that began with Vince Young (or Major Applewhite depending on whom you ask), would remain intact once the current bearer of that mantle, Colt McCoy, finished his senior season, perhaps adding another national title to go with his friend and former mentor Young’s along the way.
Ash’s recruitment was almost an afterthought, compared to that of Gilbert, who was the No. 1 recruit in the nation at the position when Texas pursued him and was one of the few football players to have Heisman buzz coming out of high school.
The son of a principal, Ash put up nice numbers for Belton earning second team all-state honors at quarterback for the Tigers, who were 18-15 in his three years as a starter. Tall, athletic and accurate (his senior season he completed 38 TDs to just 10 interceptions) – he was expected to compete for the third string job when he arrived on campus in 2011.
Neither QB’s tale has turned out much like we were told to expect from the scouts, “in the know” fans and football media.
Gilbert’s first year at Texas would be his finest in the minds of many Longhorn fans. When he stepped into the national championship game against Alabama to take over for an injured McCoy – the second-half comeback he sparked fell short, but gave Texas fans a reason to believe that in Gilbert they had found a worthy successor to him.
The team’s first losing season since 1997, however, in his first as starter when he led the Big 12 with 17 interceptions while throwing just 10 touchdowns as Texas finished the year 5-7, had fans clamoring for backup Case McCoy, the younger brother of Colt, to get his shot at the starting job.
By spring training he was in open competition with sophomores McCoy, Conner Wood and the freshman Ash for the starting job. Before the season it seemed he had won it back. Gilbert was slated to start the team’s season-opener at Rice before a subsequent announcement placed him on the third string behind McCoy and Ash who would compete the rest of the season for the starting job. Two games into the season that announcement was followed by season-ending surgery on his shoulder to repair a torn labrum and a couple of weeks later by Gilbert sought and received an unconditional release from the program.
While, Gilbert’s star was falling Ash was not doing much better. Thrust into a battle with Case, he used his athleticism to make plays but looked out of sorts much of the time in the passing game despite possessing the stronger arm.
By the end of the season, however, he had redeemed himself managing a respectable 3-3 record for a freshman as a starter and earning MVP honors in Holiday Bowl. Still, with McCoy’s boasting a 3-2 record as a starter and rallying the team to win the final game in its series with longtime rival Texas A&M there were no guarantees who would earn the job for 2012, or that it would be either of them as the Longhorns considered every option – including bringing in a highly touted junior college quarterback with more experience.
How either tale would end for the talented young men was still very much a mystery, whose answer could only be revealed with the passage of time.
A season later things are a bit clearer.
Ash has rewritten much of the book on him, putting a period on a chapter marred by self-doubt and questions of leadership with the help of one spectacular game and starting a new one whose pages he has the potential to fill with greatness. Gilbert’s story at SMU where he transferred with two years of eligibility remaining after taking 27 credit hours to graduate from UT in May with his degree in sports management has changed from a chronicle of legendary exploits, to the story of how one survives the shadow of their own legend – so far the answer is, not well.
This is the tale of two quarterbacks.
One completed 30 of 38 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns against the defending Big 12 champs Oklahoma State to give his school one of its biggest regular-season wins in years. The other tossed five interceptions on a rain-soaked field to give up any chance his team had of winning against its rival.
One started his career a legend. The other has opened up the possibility of ending his as one.
Only time will tell how the story ends, but maybe we can all learn something if we follow along.