As Duke’s best defensive player and one of the best in the ACC, safety Jeremy Cash is used to being singled out by opposing teams. That’s nothing new.
When Duke plays North Carolina, Cash says it’s a little different. The Tar Heels, who will visit Wallace Wade Stadium on Thursday, are “not too fond” of Cash, in his own words. And he knows exactly why.
“I feel unliked over there,” Cash said. “I would definitely say more so than other teams. Because I’m a pretty good football player and they just so happen to be our rival as well. Not to mention I do date a girl that goes there.”
Yes, there’s that. Cash says any Tar Heel animosity toward him is probably 40 percent professional, so to speak, and 60 percent personal, thanks to his girlfriend, UNC soccer player Bianca Gray.
The two met in the spring of 2012, not long after Cash arrived on Duke’s campus after transferring from Ohio State. That has made all three of Cash’s games against the Tar Heels – the previous two were both Duke wins, the Blue Devils’ first since 2003 – slightly different.
Then again, Cash knew that would be the case the moment he and Gray, a senior forward from Havelock, started dating.
“A lot of those players over there aren’t too fond of me, and that’s OK,” Cash said. “I’m not out there on the football field to make friends. It’s ultimately a business.”
This is an old story, the social cross-pollination of athletes between the two rivals and neighbors (and N.C. Central, too), but it never gets old. Most of the time, it’s no big deal, but in a week like this, with a game like this, it’s always just as awkward for the athletes involved as it is amusing for everyone else.
“That’s his girl,” fellow Duke defensive back DeVon Edwards said. “There’s nothing you can say about that. We’re at two different schools, and that’s just the way things go. It’s a rivalry on the field, but off the field it’s all fun and games.”
Which is how a Duke athlete ends up sitting with the North Carolina soccer fans at Fetzer Field and a North Carolina athlete ends up sitting with the Duke football fans at Wallace Wade Stadium. Gray will be there Thursday, and not in the visiting section. She’s been through this before.
“The first time they played each other, I was a little bit torn,” Gray said. “Of course, I am a UNC athlete, but I fully support Jeremy. When they ended up winning, I was very happy for him and his team.”
The Thursday night game is a big one for Cash for several reasons: The rivalry, the personal circumstances, and the midweek scheduling that will allow Cash to actually see Gray play in person for once.
Gray played four minutes in last Saturday’s first-round NCAA tournament win over South Dakota State, and the Tar Heels host Colorado in the second round Friday night. Cash would normally be sequestered with the football team. Instead, he’s hoping to celebrate a victory over North Carolina by rooting for North Carolina.
“To get this victory, it’s going to be a great win,” Cash said, “for both us and my girlfriend.”