Golden

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Con­tact Cedric Golden at 512-912-5944. Twit­ter: @ced­golden

Ash, now 24, has de­cided his life isn’t com­plete with­out the sport he’s played since he was a child. Tuesday’s plan was to throw in the work­out bub­ble be­fore go­ing out­side to punt for scouts. He still has some good zip on his throws and hit on a cou­ple of eye open­ers, one a per­fectly lofted wheel route to run­ning back D’Onta Fore­man, who’s the Longhorns’ best draft prospect.

But then, throw­ing the foot­ball has never been an is­sue for Ash. The spi­rals were al­ways crisp, and ac­cu­racy wasn’t a prob­lem. He com­pleted 29 of his 36 throws on Tuesday, with two of those in­com­ple­tions com­ing on throws that were eas­ily catch­able.

His 15 min­utes of punt­ing at De­nius Fields were far be­low the boomers that once came off his foot at Belton High School. Scouts hardly paid at­ten­tion. Many of them left. So if he over­comes the odds and makes it into an NFL camp, it will be as a quar­ter­back.

“It’s so hard to tell be­cause he’s al­ways been a good player,” said for­mer Dal­las Cow­boys player per­son­nel direc­tor Gil Brandt, who now is an an­a­lyst for the NFL Net­work. “The big­gest thing is be­ing away from the game for three years.”

And that thing with the head in­juries, too.

Af­ter play­ing the first game of the Char­lie Strong era — the 2014 sea­son opener against North Texas at Royal Memo­rial Sta­dium — Ash, who skipped the post-game press con­fer­ence, called train­ers later that night to com­plain of nau­sea and headaches. The symp­toms lasted for the bet­ter part of a week.

Three weeks af­ter that game, Ash an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

He’d taken a wicked shot late in the fourth quar­ter of the 2013 loss to BYU and played only one game the rest of that sea­son. All told, Ash played only five out of a pos­si­ble 26 games in the 2013 and 2014 sea­sons. He had 22 ca­reer starts.

It had be­come an ac­cepted part of his story that Ash was a con­cus­sion wait­ing to hap­pen. We ap­plauded him for mak­ing the smart de­ci­sion to step away from foot­ball, a sport that doesn’t have the best long-term ef­fects on the hu­man brain. But now he’s back. Ash, a man of faith, be­lieves God led him back to foot­ball. He was plan­ning a trip to a third world coun­try as part of his plan to be­come a youth min­is­ter, but said a meet­ing in Chicago with a neu­rol­o­gist and then doc­tors at UT South­west­ern Med­i­cal Cen­ter re­vealed that his prob­lems were linked to mi­graines more than con­cus­sions. He says he’s un­der med­i­ca­tion, which in­cludes holis­tic treat­ment.

The Ash we spoke to Tuesday was up­beat af­ter hav­ing worked out for a month. He sounded ex­cited about a fu­ture in foot­ball af­ter he says his doc­tors told him to “go for it.”

“My tes­ti­mony is I was in a lot of pain when I had to stop play­ing,” Ash said. “But I just leaned (on) my faith and I kept on pray­ing and I kept on look­ing for God and try­ing to fol­low him. He says go to some third world coun­try or some­where else, and I was go­ing. Lit­tle by lit­tle he led me to fig­ure out what was wrong. I re­ally think it was just a God thing.”

I don’t fear for Ash’s longterm health be­cause he’s a long shot to make it to the NFL.

“It’s easy to go out there and throw against air with no pass rush,” an NFL scout who was there Tuesday told me. “We wouldn’t have any­thing to do with him be­cause of his med­i­cal his­tory.”

While that scout’s view­point is likely to be shared by more than most, Ash pushes on. He told us his dad was the first to sug­gest he re­turn to foot­ball as a punter, and that then af­ter watch­ing sev­eral games, the bug bit him. That and the be­lief that he isn’t more sus­cep­ti­ble to head in­juries than other play­ers was enough to con­vince him to give it an­other go.

Join me in wish­ing Ash well. He rep­re­sented the univer­sity well and was al­ways a stand-up guy when it came to an­swer­ing ques­tions from the me­dia. It’s my sin­cere hope that he’ll find true hap­pi­ness in life when the re­al­ity hits that he won’t be a pro­fes­sional foot­ball player.

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

A his­tory of con­cus­sions makes David Ash an NFL long shot.

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