AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas quarterback David Ash settled in to his seat and was quickly surrounded by a throng of reporters that included nine television cameras and even more microphones pushing toward his face.
"It's good to be back," Ash said as if he loved the attention. "Did you miss me?"
Ash never used to look comfortable facing all the cameras and the questions that come with them, but the relief that comes with knowing that he will be playing football again was clear Monday, even if he still had to talk about his head and whether he should have quit the game after concussion symptoms wiped out most of his 2013 season.
Ash hadn't spoken publicly since before Texas lost at BYU in the second game last season when he suffered concussion in the second half. He tried to return two weeks later against Kansas State but lasted only one half before he was sidelined again.
He spent much of the rest of the season watching from afar. Sometimes, Texas officials wouldn't even let him stand under the bright lights of the stadium. Now Ash has been cleared by team doctors for full participation — hits and all — in training camp.
"I'm so thankful I get to do this. Nothing's guaranteed and I for sure learned that. I feel so blessed that I get another opportunity to play this game," Ash said.
Another setback came last spring when a broken foot required surgery and he missed part of spring drills under new coach Charlie Strong, including the annual intrasquad scrimmage.
"I thought I was off the struggle bus, but I had to hop back on," Ash said.
Perhaps the hardest part was dealing with the constant questions of whether he should quit because of the concussions to avoid potential further damage to his brain.
"A lot of people told me you need to give it up, you need to quit," Ash said. "Honestly, I never really thought about it because in my mind I always was going to play again."
Ash leaned heavily on his deep religious faith in finding a path to return, comparing himself to Olympic sprint champion and missionary Eric Liddell, whose sports career was chronicled in the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire." And there were many conversations with his family. Ash wouldn't discuss details but revealed he had to convince his mother that a return to the field would be OK.
"We had a few talks. Can you blame her? But I want to play," he said. "I made it clear from the beginning I wanted come back and my parents and my parents just kind of said they would support me whatever I wanted to do."
Despite Ash missing most of last season, Strong has already declared him the starter as Texas preps for the Aug. 30 season opener against North Texas. Not that he had much choice. Ash's top backups are sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, who struggled badly in the spring scrimmage, and freshman Jerrod Heard, the star of Strong's first Texas recruiting class.
Knowing he's got few options behind him and needs to keep Ash healthy, Strong showed him a highlight film of the big hits Ash used to take. Ash, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and nearly 230 pounds, would try to run over linebackers and defensive backs and often paid for it.
"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," Strong said. "He took like three or four hits and I just stopped it and asked what he was trying to prove?"
Ash said he'll be a smarter runner this season, but isn't afraid of another big hit, despite his injury history.
"Bring it on," he said.