The group of Blue Devils, along with strength and conditioning assistant Marcus Johnson, spent nearly two weeks in Ethiopia helping to construct freshwater wells for local communities. The group finished one halfway-completed well and began the drilling process for a second well, ensuring safe drinking water for hundreds of people nearby.
"The communities every day would come and watch us and the well drillers dig," said center Brian Moore. "Even if they weren't participating, they were just interested in seeing the process. That's the biggest thing after we complete the well - having the community take ownership of it and really understand the value of the well and how to maintain it."
Harding, whose grandparents were missionaries and whose father was born in Ethiopia and now works as an agricultural engineer while serving on the board of directors for Water is Life International, had previously made several service trips to Africa with his parents. With the support from head coach David Cutcliffe and others in the football program and greater Duke community, Harding laid down the plans provide his teammates with a similar opportunity. And while he expected the trip to change some of his fellow Blue Devils' perspectives on life in the U.S., Harding says he didn't anticipate the extent to which they would come together as a group.
"Seeing these guys really losing the familiarity and their comfort zone within the United States - you're not at home anymore," Harding said. "Once that started to happen, peoples' walls come down and you get to know the true person. We did a lot of service along the way, but even during the service, we were able to bond and build our relationships with one another. So I think we're a lot more cohesive and better friends after having taken the trip."
Although the well drilling work was plenty labor intensive - even for a group of major college football players - those on the trip said they were proud of the impact Duke Football left for the people they met in Ethiopia.
"People travel 10 miles sometimes with jugs of water on their back," said offensive tackle Takoby Cofield. "Giving them that well [means] knowing that it's going to make their life a little bit easier and little bit less stressful, and knowing that kids over there have more of an opportunity to be healthy."
Since their return to Durham, members of the group say they have enjoyed sharing their experiences in Ethiopia with other teammates and coaches. The offensive linemen also hope that the bonds they strengthened with one another during the course of the trip will be manifested in training camp this summer and on the field come Sept. 1, when Duke hosts FIU in the season-opener at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"The rest of the team has been really interested in how everything went," Harding says. "To have this experience that nobody else has to talk about and to reflect on together is going to help strengthen the group. I think that the team bonding aspect of this trip just far exceeded my expectations."