Darryl Cash does not remember everything about his first play in a Fresno State uniform, though it was in 2011, that 4-9 season way back before all the winning, and he was on kickoff return.
It was maybe the third-to-last game, he said, which would have been at Hawaii, though it could have been a week earlier or a week later, at New Mexico State or against San Jose State. It was somewhere in there.
“I was still new to it and my job was to wait for the guy to come down and block him, and I just got run over — kind of got welcomed to college football,” he said with a laugh
“But after that, the next kickoff return, I got him — and I knew what I was doing after that. I guess you have to knock the jitters off ... or get them knocked off,” he said, again adding a laugh.
For Cash, the last play of his Bulldogs career could end up just like the first. He might remember parts, but not every particular thing come Christmas Eve against Rice in the Hawaii Bowl. It might come on special teams or maybe from scrimmage, just like the Bulldogs’ other 19 seniors though none have traveled quite the same route to get there.
Cash wasn’t just a non-scholarship walk-on four years ago, he made it through an open tryout for students, stuck through spring practice and the next thing you know it’s almost over.
He carried the football two times in 2012, 18 times in ’13 and seven times this season, scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter of a blowout win at Idaho last season.
He played on special teams, earned two Mountain West championship rings, was selected to the conference all-academic team at the end of the season and earned a scholarship for his senior year.
And he will take more than memories with him, which is what his coaches want.
“It has been a really good experience for me,” said Cash, a kinesiology major who has designs on graduate school after the season. “I learned how to work even harder through having to balance football and the classroom, and making sure both of them are taken care of. I learned to work hard, to work hard through everything no matter what because eventually your hard work can pay off if you’re willing to sacrifice your time and you put in the effort.
“That’s what I’m going to take from this — that’s the same thing I’m going to have to do when I’m done here and I’m going to take that with me, because you have to work hard. Once you’re in the work force, you’re starting from the bottom again and you have to work your way up.”
“To me,” coach Tim DeRuyter said, “I would like for him to think this was a good life experience, where he wasn’t given anything, he had to go out and earn something — and he accomplished that goal. I think it’s something that he’ll be able to carry on with him no matter what he does. There will be situations in life where he’s going to be the underdog, people aren’t going to expect him to have something, and he’s going to have that will in him to find a way to get it done. I think this kind of experience gives him that motivation that he can do it.
“I think he’s very emblematic of what we’re trying to develop: A guy who is a 3.0 in the classroom, he’s great in the community and does his best for Bulldog football. Sometimes we have some scholarship guys that they have done a lot of things in high school to get to this point, but then they get here and almost feel entitled. He’s the opposite. He’s a guy who came here and earned it.”
Cash, from Lincoln High in Stockton, beat some long odds just to see the field. Some walk-ons don’t make it more than a season or two for any number of reasons, running backs coach Joe Wade said.
“He really has come much further than the average walk-on that walk on, not even a recruited walk-on, but a guy that we didn’t even know was on campus and came through the walk-on tryout,” Wade said.
“I think he realizes where he has come from, and he should be very proud. The way he carries himself, I’m sure he has some pride in what he has done. ... He’s somebody that all the coaches have a lot of faith in and know he’s going to try to do it exactly the way you ask him to do it, and that’s everything — as a student and as an athlete. I’m proud of him. He should be proud of himself.”
With the number of practices winding down and one last game to play, Cash said he’s trying to make every moment count.
“The best part is coming out here with my teammates every day,” Cash said. “They make it fun. Coming out here every day, playing on this field and definitely coming out here on game days, coming down that tunnel with the smoke and everything. That makes it worth it every time.”
And the last time?
“We’ll see when I get to that point,” Cash said. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel. But I guess we’ll see in a moment.”