Dr. Saturday

Duke offensive linemen serve villages in Ethiopa and find cohesion along the way

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

View gallery

.

(Courtesy of Dave Harding)

It's a mixture of moments that run through the mind of Duke offensive lineman Dave Harding when he reflects on his offensive line's trip to Ethiopia earlier this month.

Harding, a junior for the Blue Devils and son of missionaries, had been visiting and doing charitable work in Ethiopia every summer since he was 12 and had almost become desensitized to the poverty and struggle. It wasn't until he took nine of his offensive line teammates and a strength coach with him that he remembered what a life-changing experience such a trip could be.

"It's easy to become complacent," Harding told Yahoo! Sports. "After going to Ethiopia so many times you come to find that what you see over there is normal. Traveling with all my teammates and it being their first time, it really opened me up and reminded me what things are different and gave me a chance to look at Ethiopia as if it was my first time again."

View gallery

.

(Courtesy of Dave Harding)

Members of the Duke offensive line - Harding, Takoby Cofield, Cody Robinson, Conor Irwin, Laken Tomlinson, Brian Moore, Travis Gibson, Joey Finison, Teddy Force and Perry Simmons - spent 10 days (plus two traveling) in Ethiopia building two wells, working with an orphanage and running a sports camp with about 200 kids. Harding had approached the coaching staff with the idea every year he had been on campus, but this past January, things started to fall into place. With the help of a group called Water is Life International, the nine players and strength and conditioning coach Marcus Johnson were able to make the dream a reality.

"It was something that shaped me and made me who I am and I wanted the rest of my teammates to get that experience as well," said Harding, whose father is an agricultural engineer who is also on the Water is Life Board of Directors. "It was a great chance for a lot of guys to learn about one another and to struggle through different situations together, especially without the distractions of home."

The trip was about more than serving the people of Ethiopia, though that was a huge draw, it was also about bringing the offensive line closer together. Cofield said prior to the trip, there were a lot of cliques on the offensive line and cohesion was an issue.

"Our new offensive line coach - coach (John) Latina - came in and told us we needed to bond more and we needed to be more of a unit," Cofield said. "So, from his perspective we definitely needed it and I guess that's why all of us jumped at it and wanted to go and experience it.

"Offensive line is five guys working together all of the time. So being comfortable with each other is something that is pretty essential. It felt like it helped us a lot."

The group did get to learn a lot about each other just from the close quarters they shared, which included bunk beds for the 300-plus-pound linemen and candlelight walks through the African bush to the showers.

"Everyone was a little scared to walk through the African bush at night so we installed the buddy system," Harding said. "It made for even more team bonding there. Nothing like holding on to each other as you walk though the bush. Stuff like that is just like funny memories and good stuff."

View gallery

.

(Courtesy of Dave Harding)

There was also a great sense of accomplishment. The group finished one well and began drilling another. The addition of the wells meant villagers wouldn't have to walk more than two miles to get fresh water.

Cofield said the experience would have a profound effect on his life. He recalled a man helping the group build one of the wells and remarked about how hard the man worked and how excited he was about the project. What Cofield didn't learn until later was that the man had a club foot, a birth defect where the afflicted appears to walk on their ankles.

"He was picking up 100-pound bags of concrete and walking across a bridge with them, jumping up and down and just always enthusiastic," Cofield said. "It just kind of shocked me and made me realize that no matter what you think your situation is and if you think your situation is bad someone might have it worse. He showed me the definition of hard work through adversity and I'll never forget that."

Since the group has returned, Harding said he's been inundated with requests about another trip. He said putting this one together was tougher and more time-consuming than he imagined, but that he wouldn't be opposed to doing another trip with as many as 14 players next year.

"You think you've struggled until you see what these people have to do and the lives that they live," Harding said. "They're working to survive on a day-to-day basis. It makes you grateful for what we have."

- - -
"Like" Dr. Saturday on Facebook for football conversations and stuff you won't see on the blog. And follow Dr. Saturday at its new home on Twitter: @YahooDrSaturday

View Comments