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Duke safety poised to Cash in at draft

Jeremy Cash has mingled with football royalty, having spent time around recently retired legend Peyton Manning and having played for Ohio State's powerhouse program.

But it's a ballyhooed basketball school that Cash can help make history in the 2016 NFL Draft.

There is a chance that Cash, a ball-hawking safety, could be drafted in the first round. If that were to happen, it would mark the first time in Duke football history that the program can boast first-round selections in consecutive years.

Cash said he's been in constant contact with last year's 28th overall selection, former Duke guard Laken Tomlinson now of the Detroit Lions. But the two haven't been talking about making history; rather, Tomlinson has been getting Cash up to speed on what to expect at the next level regardless of where he's drafted.

"It's a vastly different beast. You really have to be prepared," Cash said. "He did say that his rookie season was probably going to be the hardest season that he's ever played because you really don't have any time for breaks. You're pretty much going from your bowl game into training, rookie minicamp, OTAs, preseason games, the whole season.

"That's a lot of time and a lot of stress on your body, so you have to take care of your body, whether it's yoga or nutrition. Your body is going to be the biggest investment you make in yourself."

Cash's body of work has NFL scouts intrigued. An aggressive defender who was a tackle-for-loss waiting to happen in college, Cash beat out Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey – considered a top-five overall draft pick by many – for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Like Ramsey, Cash should be able to contribute on the pro level in any number of roles.

"A lot of people say they will play to my skill set, understanding that I'm a versatile player, whether it be playing in a nickel corner role or as a linebacker blitzing off the edge," Cash said. "I'm not just an in-the-box player. I do have that range of motion."

Cash began his college career at Ohio State in 2011, but three months before Cash's first game, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel resigned. Cash played in five games as a freshman but then decided to transfer. Then he surprised many by choosing a school that hadn't really been on the college football map for a half-century.

"My philosophy on life is that life has no remote control, you have to get up and change it yourself. I didn't too much like the circumstances I was in, so I changed them," said Cash, who pointed to Tressel's departure and then Tressel's advice as the impetus for his transfer from Ohio State to Duke. "He led me in the direction of Duke and Coach Cut, and when I arrived on campus, I fell in love with the place."

"Coach Cut" is David Cutcliffe, the offensive coordinator at Tennessee when Manning was there and the head coach at Mississippi when brother Eli was there. Cutcliffe took the Duke job in 2008 and totaled 15 victories his first four seasons. That would be a modest record at most places, but Duke had totaled 13 victories in the nine seasons before Cutcliffe's arrival.

Cash's redshirt year, the Blue Devils won six games and qualified for their first bowl game since 1994. Over his three seasons wreaking havoc on the field, Duke averaged nine victories and earned its first bowl victory since 1961 in Cash's final game (though he didn't play because of a wrist injury).

"Going to a place like Duke, I had a chance alongside my other teammates to make history, and we did just that," Cash said. "Coach Cut always preaches to make a place better than you found it, and I think by the time I graduated, I did just that."

Prior to Peyton Manning's retirement, he and some of his receivers worked out at Duke each offseason. Cash will just miss out on getting an opportunity to face Manning in a game, but Cash learned a lot from being around the quarterback and his receivers that he'll carry with him to the next level.

"Just looking at the size of some of those guys, you know you really have to perfect your craft," Cash said. "It's a big transition in skill level coming from college to the NFL level, a lot of prep and technique you have to learn.

"The smaller mistakes you make in college you won't be able to get away with in the NFL."

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