After sitting out a year, Duke safety Jeremy Cash is all-in

Aug. 28, 2013 @ 10:36 PM

During a weightlifting session earlier this week, Duke senior cornerback Ross Cockrell repeatedly heard the same phrase from teammate Jeremy Cash.

“It’s time to go,” Cockrell heard Cash say. “It’s time to go.”

For Cash, the time to go on the field and play for the Blue Devils has finally arrived.

A transfer from probation-laden Ohio State, the sophomore safety was forced to sit out last season when the NCAA denied his appeal to play immediately.

When Duke plays N.C. Central in the Bull City Gridiron Classic on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN3), Cash’s time on the sidelines ends.

“I’m a little anxious,” Cash said Wednesday. “It’s been quite some time. So it’s going to be good to get back on the field.”

Last week, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said, he had a flashback to a year ago when he had to tell Cash the NCAA wouldn’t allow him to play in 2012.

“(I remember) how disappointed he was — I was ... (a) very difficult time,” Cutcliffe said. “That youngster is a fierce competitor. I know he’s excited.”

A prep standout at Plantation, Fla., Cash enrolled early at Ohio State in January 2011 and played in five games that season for the Buckeyes. But with the head coach who recruited him, Jim Tressel, forced to resign due to NCAA infractions involving impermissible benefits and a coverup, Cash looked for a new school closer to home that offered a balance of academics and athletics.

He looks back now and laughs at Internet reports that tied him to Arkansas and LSU.

“That wasn’t going to happen,” Cash said. “I knew I wanted to be closer to home. I was trying to figure out where it was going to be.”

Duke, Miami and South Florida were his three finalists and it was something Tressel said that helped send him to Durham.

“I did not know much about Duke football at all,” Cash said. “I talked to Coach Tressel and the way he talked of Coach Cutcliffe, it sounded a lot like himself. I’ve come to the realization that it was true, they are a lot alike. I looked for the qualities that I’ve seen in coach Cutcliffe that I saw in coach Tressel. So I’m glad I’m here to play for a guy like him.”

When Duke played road games last season, NCAA rules prohibited Cash from traveling with the team. So he would gather with other non-traveling members of the team (walk-ons or injured players) to watch games at the Yoh Football Center or a local restaurant.

“It was a little difficult, to be honest with you,” Cash said. “I wanted to play and my coaches wanted me to play.”

Cash practiced with the scout team, which would mimic each opponent’s defense. He worked out and studied game film.

Appreciating the importance of studying film, Cash said, was something he brought with him from Ohio State.

“I try to instill that to the younger guys,” Cash said. “You just can try to show up and play. This is college. Everybody is talented. It’s important that you try to become a student of the game.”

Cash technically could have played in the Belk Bowl last season since that December game came after the fall semester ended at Duke. The game was, after all, Duke’s first bowl appearance in 18 years.

But doing so would have left him with only two years of eligibility left. As it is, Cash has three seasons to play for Duke.

“In my three years, we’re going to get to a bowl game all three of my years,” Cash said. “I’m invested in that. To miss this one, it wasn’t a big deal because I’ll get to play in others.”

Cash will start at the strike safety position, one of three safety slots in Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive alignment.

Having waited so long could cause Cash to get over-hyped and try and do too much on Saturday.

“He’s got to play his assignment and read his keys and be where he’s supposed to be, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities where he’s playing to make plays,” Cutcliffe said. “I hope that takes care of itself with his focus, maturity, and concentration.”

Another lesson learned at Ohio State will help keep Cash focused.

“At Ohio State is they instilled 1/11th,” Cash said. “I’m just one player on a defense of 11. I just have to do my 1/11 and be confident that each and every guy will do his 11th.”

His coaches at Duke, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and secondary coach Derek Jones, taught him something he had to learn the hard way while sitting out.

“Patience is key,” Cash said. “You can’t be overzealous and try to make too many plays.

Cockrell, a defensive captain for Duke this year and an All-ACC cornerback, knows he’ll have a talented new player in the backfield.

“Sitting out for that year kind of hurt him a little bit,” Cockrell said. “He just loves football and it’s very clear to see that. I’m excited to see what he can do.”