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Blue Devils connect with Durham

The life of a varsity athlete is difficult. Most of the weekend is spent on long bus rides or plane trips. Early-morning practices disrupt sleep schedules. And all of these time-consuming activities are in addition to the course load of a regular student.

So asking a football player to complete a community service requirement seems like it would be an impossible request.

Instead, every single member of the Duke football team takes time out of his schedule to do his part for Durham.

"It's important that we all try to help, whether at a school or another organization, to make this community better," head coach Ted Roof said. "A lot of the time, I don't know if players understand the impact they have on people's lives. They have a tremendous impact...If you're out there and you've made a difference in one person's life, then you've helped change the world."

Most recently, several members of the Duke team have been volunteering their time at the Carter Community School in Durham. The team helped to raise money to donate a $15,000 computer lab, something that the school was sorely lacking.

"This school draws from all walks of life, draws from a homeless shelter," Roof said.

Most of the money came from programs like "In Kids Defense," an organization that garners some of its financial support based on the number of points the Blue Devils score during their games.

Roof, along with several players, including senior co-captain Phillip Alexander, visited the school Sept. 7 to see the completed lab.

"I think when our players go to places like that, a lot of them see themselves a few short years ago," Roof said. "It's our responsibility."

Many players echoed the sentiments of Roof. They noted that they enjoy helping less-fortunate kids because they were once in that situation.

Not surprisingly, Alexander is one of the leaders of the team's community service effort. Both on and off the field, he relies on his experience to help him.

"I came from an inner city-Bronx, N.Y.-and I know that having a positive role model around is a key thing to have," Alexander said. "Being in college is a great opportunity, and a lot of people don't get afforded that chance. If we can reach out and help people, it is definitely a good thing."

From day one, Roof has emphasized the importance of community service, Alexander said. Roof makes it clear that it is a team policy for every player to be involved in a community service project.

Many of the players on the team think of the personal interactions with young children as the most rewarding part of community service.

Junior Casey Camero, who visited Carter Community School with Roof and Alexander, likes that he has the ability to give back to a younger generation.

"I remember when older guys used to come talk to me," Camero said. "I looked up to them as role models. It's cool for us be in that position now."

Several Duke players also participate in the "Read with the Blue Devils" program. Like the name implies, members of the football team visit local elementary schools to read to students.

As much as the students enjoy the books, they like the ability to talk to college football players even more.

"At the end they'll ask us some questions about football or life and we try to be encouraging to those kids," sophomore Zach Smith said. "Stay in school, go ahead and get your work done and athletics comes second," he tells them.

Roof knows that his team members have, by virtue of being NCAA football players, a special ability to help young kids. He is well aware that the kids will listen to athletes before most others.

"Just from being a role model, just from being involved in some kid's life, they know somebody cares about them," Roof said. "I'm very proud of our guys and the job they do in that area."

Beyond giving time off of the field, Roof and his players believe that community service helps his squad on the gridiron.

"It puts in perspective what's important and what's really a problem and what's not," Roof said.

And that's not just coach-speak. Alexander agrees, calling the experience "humbling."

"I think it definitely helps the team," Alexander said. "Sometimes you have class and you have practice and you get bogged down with things and you say, man this is so tough. It is a helpful reminder about where you came from, how lucky you are to be here."

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