Jeremy Cash thinking big, for Duke and himself

In his mind, Jeremy Cash was as good as gone. His family had bought him luggage for his Dec. 2 birthday and Christmas. It was time, he thought, to take the next step.

But doubt lingered in the second-team all-American safety’s mind. He made a list of pros and cons to staying at Duke for his final year or leaving. He consulted with his girlfriend, former UNC soccer player (and biology major) Bianca Gray, and her parents Maurice and Kathleen Gray. And when it came to making the decision for real, football wasn’t the overriding factor.

“When it came down to it, we figured that education was so important that education would take me further along in my life than football would,” Cash said at ACC media day. “And, therefore, I decided to stay and come back and get that extra degree paid for by Duke. I’m only three classes away from getting my master’s degree.

“Life is this long,” he said, stretching his arms wide. “Football” – his hands shrunk like an accordion – “is this much of it.”

Talk can get a little silly at these media days – players literally spend hours just talking to TV people, radio people and writers – but Cash was dead serious. He graduated last May with a degree in psychology, and his masters is in liberal studies, with a focus on political science. His post-football plan: FBI agent.

“At some point, people have to realize that football is going to end, and there is going to be a day where you put on the pads for the last time. And then what are you going to do? I didn’t want to be one of those people sitting there like a deer in headlights.”

First, though, Cash might make a few opponents’ offensive players see a white light resembling headlights. He prides himself on being a hard-hitting safety – “If I feel that the game isn’t where we want it to be energy-wise, maybe I will go for the big hit, just to get a couple of oohs and ahhs” – and he has made 232 tackles in the two years he has played at Duke (Cash played his freshman year at Ohio State). He has a knack for big plays, too, snagging six interceptions and causing six fumbles. The only thing that’s missing, in his mind, is a pick-six.

“One of those wouldn’t hurt,” he said.

Cash is part of a Blue Devils’ secondary that returns all five starters and all five backups. The Blue Devils’ defense finished 10th in the 14-team ACC in terms of yards per play allowed (5.28), but internally, confidence is sky-high in the back end of the 4-2-5 alignment.

“Look at the depth that we are returning on defense,” Cash said. “Me personally, I think we have one of the best secondaries in the country. We can compete with any and all secondaries nationally.”

And on fellow safeties Deondre Singleton and DeVon Edwards, Cash said, “They’ve done so much, and I personally don’t feel like they’ve gotten the recognition that they deserve for the resumes that they have put together on the field.”

That’s the Cash swagger that has come to be expected from him. But now, with just one year left on campus, it’s accompanied by a maturity not seen in previous years. When he first arrived from Ohio State, Cash was a man of few words, taking care of his business on the field and not worrying about much else. Now he has grown into a leader and is embracing all the responsibility that comes with it – including spending the day talking to an endless stream of media, one of two public representations for the team. Someone has to do it.

“I think that’s just being more comfortable with his surroundings and being more comfortable with the role that he has,” said center Matt Skura, who represented the offense Monday. “He has become much more comfortable with the people around him. Obviously you can see that his play on the field has kept growing, which is pretty spectacular.”

If Cash keeps growing, that career in the FBI will be put on hold for years to come. And, more immediately, it would go a long way toward a successful 2015 season for Duke.

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley