All-ACC safety Jeremy Cash is Duke’s enforcer

jgiglio@newsobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

— Duke will beat No.1 Florida State in the ACC title game.

Jeremy Cash believes this, he truly does. To tell him otherwise is a waste of oxygen.

The All-ACC safety, who is cut straight from the south Florida “We invented swagger” mold, only knows one way to think.

“You have to be confident,” Cash said. “Not arrogant or cocky, but just have confidence in your ability and your teammates and your coach. I have that.”

Cash flashes a big smile when he says this. You have to be confident in your ability to get where Cash was, an Ohio State transfer, to where Duke is.

“Cash brings a mentality that’s rare,” Duke linebacker Kelby Brown said. “He’s a guy that’s never going to back down from a challenge, it doesn’t matter who it is.”

The next challenge that awaits Cash and the 28-point underdog Blue Devils is Florida State, the highest-scoring, most dominant team in ACC history.

Fine with Cash, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore who grew up in Plantation, Fla., and played against a slew of Seminoles before he got to college.

Receiver Rashad Green and Kelvin Benjamin, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner – Cash ticks through the list of star FSU players he knows from south Florida.

“They’re good athletes, but so are we,” Cash said. “I just hope they don’t sleep on us.”

“Duke” and “swag” had never intersected before like they do with Cash and this defense. No one symbolizes the new Duke, the 10-game winners and Coastal Division champs, more than Cash.

As a hybrid safety-linebacker, he plays the most important role in Duke’s 4-2-5 alignment. He has the physical attributes – the speed to cover receivers, the strength to make big hits – to play the position, but it’s his confidence that makes him special.

“I approach every situation where I expect to win,” Cash said. “It might not always happen, but I expect it to happen.

“If you go in there and think, ‘Well, maybe it will happen,’ it won’t happen. You have to believe mentally or you won’t do it physically.”

With the explosion of spread offenses in the college game, the need for defenders who can play against the run and pass, with equal dexterity, becomes essential.

This particular defense – with four linemen, two linebackers and five backs – doesn’t really work without a player like Cash, who as coaches like to say, can “tackle in space.”

“It’s a tough position to play because you have to do it all,” Brown said. “I can only do one of things but Cash is different.”

How different is Cash? He goes by the philosophy: “When life gives you lemons, make grape juice and and let everyone wonder how you did it.”

He’s “different” good, he’s “different” as in every time you look at the bottom of the pile, he’s there different.

“He carries himself like he’s the best player on the team,” Duke’s All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “When you go out there and play like that, you have my respect.”

Cash leads the Blue Devils with four interceptions and 56 solo tackles (his 109 tackles are second on the team). He also has forced two fumbles from what Duke calls the “strike” safety position.

“He’s a difference-maker because he’s a playmaker,” coach David Cutcliffe said.

A four-star recruit out of Plantation High in 2010, he picked Ohio State because he wanted to play for coach Jim Tressel.

Cash got to Ohio State in 2011, but never got to play for Tressel, who was fired four months for before the season started. Cash spent his freshman season at Ohio State and played in five games for interim coach Luke Fickell.

When Ohio State hired former Florida coach Urban Meyer as Tressel’s full-time replacement, Cash knew his career with the Buckeyes was over.

Of all the Division I programs in the state of Florida, only one – Meyer’s Gators – did not offer Cash a scholarship out of Plantation. His high school coach, and Tressel himself, pointed Cash toward Duke and Cutcliffe.

As Cutcliffe described it, “He didn’t know me from Adam.” Cash, who had to redshirt last season under NCAA rules, and the coach have grown closer. The two are now inextricably connected by Duke’s amazing turnaround.

“I think Jeremy has gotten better on and off the field,” Cutcliffe said. “I think Jeremy has grown as a young man and a football player.”

When Cash decided to transfer to Duke, he understood the skepticism about his choice, going from a traditional college power to a traditional college project.

“Coming here, most people thought: ‘He can’t play,’” Cash said. “I just let my play silence all the doubters.”

An All-ACC sophomore season has already proven most of his doubters wrong. There’s nothing Cash wants more than to defy the odds one more time with the ACC title as the reward.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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