Texas Football: 4 Texas Natives Who Can Bring the Horns Back to Glory
It has been nearly a decade since the Texas Longhorns were crowned the kings of college football. The Longhorns' 69-9 run between 2004 and 2009 was something special. But the fall from grace following the 2009 season has oftentimes clouded how good Texas was.
The Longhorns have a clean slate under head coach Charlie Strong and his new staff. Strong has hit the ground running since he arrived in Austin and has one goal in mind: championships.
"We have to continue to build on the tradition and continue to lay that rock," Strong said. "But it's all about championships in the end. Let's go win football games. Let's go win championships."
It is easy to talk about winning championships, but Texas will need to have the right players on the roster in order to turn those words into actions. Do the Longhorns have what it takes to lead Texas back to the top?
Here's a look at four Texans who could help bring Texas football back to its glory days.
Quarterback David Ash
Finding a legitimate quarterback is the goal of any team hoping to reach the top ranks of college football.
The Longhorns had a stretch of elite quarterbacks with Vince Young and Colt McCoy. In fact, one could argue Young and McCoy are two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of college football. And Texas had the two back-to-back.
But Texas has been without a consistent quarterback option since McCoy departed the 40 acres following the 2009 season.
Enter David Ash, a veteran quarterback from Belton, Texas, who has had an up-and-down career in Austin.
The roller coaster began during his true freshman season. Ash received very few reps during summer workouts and fully expected to redshirt in 2011.
That never happened.
"I remember my role as a freshman was to come in to 7-on-7 and beg for a rep," Ash said. "I really didn't expect to play until I was a redshirt sophomore."
Ash was thrown into the mix early and often during his debut season as a Longhorn. The outcome was decent, but nothing stellar. The same could be said for his sophomore season. Ash flashed signs of greatness, but also struggled in big games.
The bar was set high for Ash's junior year. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to reach his potential due to a season-ending head injury suffered in Week 2 of the 2013 season.
You may be thinking, how can a player who has struggled and has been inconsistent bring Texas back to glory? The answer to that question is simple: Texas needs Ash to be the guy so it will not be faced with another Ash-like situation.
Quarterbacks almost always need a redshirt season. Texas has not been able to redshirt any of its eventual starting quarterbacks since McCoy in 2005. The last thing Texas needs is to burn the redshirt of another talented quarterback only for him to receive limited snaps in garbage time.
Ash's progress could determine if Texas can redshirt incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, and could ultimately decide whether Texas can return to being the top college football program in the near future.
Running Back Johnathan Gray
Texas has a backfield full of talented running backs, but sophomore Johnathan Gray is arguably one of the best in the nation.
After setting the Texas high school football records for 100 yards or more rushing games in a season (16), 100 yards or more career rushing games for a career (51), most rushing touchdowns in a season (65), total career touchdowns (205) and career scoring (1,232), Gray was crowned Gatorade's National Football Player of the Year in 2011.
Gray has continued to live up to the hype during his first season in Austin, rushing for 701 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman.
He picked up 780 rushing yards, four touchdowns and two 100-yard performances in the first nine games of his sophomore season, but suffered a ruptured Achilles and missed the Longhorns' final four games of 2013.
Texas has not released a set timetable for Gray's return, but if all heals properly, Texas fans can expect Gray to be an impact player for the Longhorns.
Defensive Tackle Malcom Brown
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown fits the mold of what Strong wants Texas to be: tough.
Brown's toughness first surfaced when he was involved in a scuffle with offensive guard Mason Walters during the Longhorns' summer workouts in 2012. Walters was a veteran junior; Brown was an incoming freshman.
"You put enough guys who are competitive in a room and things go on," Walters said. "But it's something that happens within the team."
A Rivals.com 5-star recruit and the nation's No. 5 defensive tackle in the 2012 recruiting class, Brown has proved that he is an impact player. The 6'4", 305-pound tackle from Brenham, Texas served as a reserve defensive tackle during his true freshman season and posted 25 tackles.
He started all 13 games in 2013 and was arguably the Longhorns' most talented defensive tackle as a true sophomore. Brown racked up 68 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and six quarterback pressures.
The experience he gained during his first two seasons in Austin is extremely valuable for the Longhorns defense. He has the talent to become an All-American defensive tackle, and considering Strong's defensive mind, that label could very well be within reach for Brown.
Cornerback Antwuan Davis
One of the final pieces of the Longhorns'puzzle is a little bit of a wild card, but he has the potential to become a legitimate playmaker.
Speedy cornerback Antwuan Davis brings a blend of substantial measurables to the cornerback position. Rivals.com listed Davis as the nation's No. 9 cornerback in the 2013 recruiting class.
But one of his most notable skills is his competitiveness. The 5'11", 192-pound Bastrop, Texas native plays with the type of physicality you often see from a strong safety.
Davis has four years of eligibility remaining and has the talent to evolve into another great Texas defensive back. Even though he has yet to see the field, Davis has enough upside to turn him into a long-term difference-maker for the Longhorns.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. You can follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.