Jeremy Cash could have played. He was tempted, to be certain. This was the question Cash had to ask himself, with no easy answer: Was it worth giving up a year of eligibility to play in one game?
After all, how many chances do you get to play in a bowl game -- especially at Duke, where the Blue Devils were making their first bowl appearance in 18 years?
The Duke safety had hoped to play the entire 2012 season immediately after transferring from Ohio State, caught up in the coaching change there from Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer, only to have his application for a waiver denied by the NCAA about this time a year ago.
By the time the Belk Bowl rolled around, though, Duke’s first semester was over, making Cash technically eligible for the bowl game in Charlotte -- but for eligibility purposes, that one game would count for the entire 2012 season he hadn’t played at all.
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“He and I had that conversation,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “And we could have used him.”
Cash had a choice to make: Play in the bowl game and give up a year at Duke, or watch from the sidelines and still have three years left in Durham. Two years, after all, was more than enough time to finish his degree. And given how long Duke had waited to get to a bowl game, who’s to say they’d make it back in the next three years?
“It was tempting, but it wasn’t worth it in the long run,” Cash said. “I’d lose a whole year of eligibility over one game. It wasn’t worth it. But the thought crossed my mind.”
That decision had Cutcliffe’s full support. He said using Cash was “never really an option,” given the long-term consequences.
So Cash sat out one more game. And now, after a year of practicing against the first-team offense, he’s one of the most experienced players in a group of inexperienced safeties, despite never taking a snap in a Duke uniform -- experienced enough that Cutcliffe held him out of Duke’s first scrimmage Monday night along with a handful of other battle-tested veterans.
“I wouldn’t have held him out if I thought he needed the work,” Cutcliffe said.
Now, after a long year of waiting, of practicing, of disappointment and frustration, Cash’s time has finally come at Duke. The Blue Devils probably could have used him in that 48-34 loss to Cincinnati, but they’ll definitely need him when they open their season Aug. 31 against N.C. Central, which will finally conclude a long year in limbo for the redshirt sophomore from Plantation, Fla.
“It was frustrating to think about, not being on the field,” Cash said. “I just tried to help my teammates out, help the team get better in any way I could.”
Oddly enough, Cash’s decision not to play in the Belk Bowl may have helped the team get better. It was a statement of his confidence in the program and its future. He’s betting that wasn’t the only bowl game he’ll have the opportunity to play in for the Blue Devils, even though it was Duke’s first bowl in almost two decades.
“I promise you,” Cash said, “it won’t be our last.”