Most of Duke’s offensive linemen hope to build some team chemistry – and perhaps some more muscle- by helping build an African community.
Guard Dave Harding is bringing 10 teammates and a strength coach to Ethiopia for nearly two weeks to drill at least one freshwater well in a remote area of the country, while also volunteering at an orphanage and holding a sports camp for kids.
”The coaches always say, ‘Go through (football) camp … and everybody, you bleed together,’ and it just builds camaraderie,” Harding said Thursday. ”I think people are going to be challenged, mostly mentally and spiritually with what they’re seeing. To be able to talk that through with each other and experience that together is something that no other college offensive line or football team will be able to experience or has experienced in a long time.”
The Blue Devils leave next Friday and will spend 10 days based mostly in the central Ethiopian city of Awasa. Roughly an hour north of town lies Lake Langano, the nearest geographical landmark to the drill site.
One thing’s for certain: this will be no vacation.
The labor-intensive process of drilling pipe for the well figures to be unlike any workout they’ve had in the cozy comforts of the Duke weight room. Some of the players will anchor a rope attached to a pulley while others are ”pounding the pipe into the ground,” Harding said.
”I’ve seen some pretty strong guys go there and get wiped out quick,” Harding said.
Assistant strength coach Marcus Johnson, who played five years in the NFL on offensive lines with Minnesota and Tampa Bay, says the trip should give both him and the players a chance to bond in a ”totally different territory and atmosphere.”
”Offensive linemen, I call them brothers. To see how your brothers bond with you in a different situation, you get to see what guys are really like,” Johnson said. ”Can you really trust them? Are they accountable? I think it’ll teach not only them, but myself as well, just what to expect from a guy, if things do get tough over there.”
Harding spent six years of his childhood in Madaba, Jordan, but moved to Orlando, Fla., when he was 11. Before coming to Duke, he made several service trips to Africa with his parents.
His grandparents were missionaries, and his father was born in Ethiopia and played soccer at N.C. State before becoming an agricultural engineer who’s on the board of directors for Water Is Life International, a nonprofit that works to bring safe water to needy communities.
Harding and coach David Cutcliffe discussed the idea over the past few years, and the coach was supportive. Roughly $45,000 for the trip came from donors within the university, Harding said.
”The best part of it is, it makes them aware of a responsibility that we all have to help others around the world, not just at home,” Cutcliffe said. ”It should be a big eye-opening experience for all of those young men.”
Harding suggested it to his fellow linemen and 13 of the 16 on the roster showed up for the informational meetings.
But one key question kept popping up.
”What are we going to be eating over there? That’s a huge concern for everybody,” Harding said. ”Don’t worry. I’ve never starved while I was there.”
Pasta and bread make up much of the menu – Harding says the players mostly will cook their own food – and his father knows the safe restaurants. They’ll also pack some extra energy bars so the linemen don’t go hungry.
”We’re only going to be gone for two weeks – there’s only so much weight you can lose in that amount of time,” tackle Perry Simmons said with a laugh.