From Duke's O-line to the duck blind

Blue Devils football players relax together with rod and reel or in fields scoping for waterfowl

CorrespondentOctober 13, 2011 

— John Coleman came to the interview wearing a pine-green sweatshirt with "Ducks Unlimited" written across the chest.

The "D" in the word ducks was the logo of the Duke Blue Devils.

He laughed when it was suggested he wasn't exactly feeding any Duke stereotypes.

"There's not really a big hunting and fishing scene at Duke University," he said with a chuckle.

But because of his efforts, the outdoors scene at Duke might be getting a little bigger.

The redshirt sophomore from Florence, S.C., is the starting right guard on the football team, which is currently riding a three-game winning streak. And one of his main hunting and fishing buddies is Dave Harding, a redshirt sophomore from Orlando, Fla., who is right next to him on the line at center.

"Offensive linemen like to fish," Harding said. "I think it's because it's a good way to just do nothing for a while. John and I have taken a bunch of the freshmen out fishing - Matt Skura, Cody Robinson, Lucas Patrick. It was a good way to get to know the new guys."

Coleman is one of the founding members of the Ducks Unlimited chapter, which now numbers about 25. He also belongs to Delta Waterfowl, another national conservation organization.

"There are not a whole lot of conservation enthusiasts here," Coleman said. "Organizations like Ducks Unlimited get a really bad rap from a lot of people. But the programs they have with the federal government have conserved over 70 million acres of land in North America, which is just phenomenal."

Almost a Gamecock

Coleman, who wants to be an environmental lawyer, is carrying a double major in public policy and a bachelor of arts in environment. Harding is also a public policy major.

Coleman grew up a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks and said he always thought he'd be one until the Blue Devils came calling.

"A guy who had played college football before me always told me not to follow coaches to a school, but I really liked the staff here," Coleman said. "They sold me on trying to build a program."

And the fact that head coach David Cutcliffe is an avid angler didn't hurt the conversations.

"Coach Cut and I both love to bass fish," Coleman said. "I'm trying to get him to take me to the King Fisher Society (in Laurel Hill) one day, but I don't think that's allowed in NCAA regulations. That place is pretty snazzy."

To hear them tell it, it's like Coleman and Harding were nearly born with a fishing pole in one hand and a football in the other.

"Everything from bream and sunfish to a lot of salt-water fishing for spottail bass, flounder, speckled trout, Spanish and king mackerel," said Coleman, who is an Eagle Scout. "And I've hunted since I could walk. We've got an old family farm we've had for five or six generations and I've gone there as long as I can remember. I do a lot of anything. Deer, dove, turkey, quail, duck, goose.

"I've never mounted anything. I'm still looking for that big trophy bass. If I ever catch a largemouth over 10-12 pounds I'm going to put it on the wall. I've caught some that weighed seven or eight. I've kept some deer horns but never got them mounted. That costs a lot of money."

Backyard bass

While Coleman was honing his skills, Harding was doing the same a couple of states South.

"My dad always fished," Harding explained. "And most of my childhood was in Florida, so I'd go to the beach and surf fish. Our house is on a 14-acre lake, so I used to fish almost every day for bass. I caught a 10-6 bass and a 10-4 on the same day in my backyard. One was with artificial spinner bait the other was with a minnow. They're both mounted, but my neighbor has them because I was using his pole.

"Then we got a boat and I'd do redfish fishing over on Mosquito Lagoon near the NASA Complex. That's some of the best redfish fishing in the world. I've caught some massive bull redfish - about 45 inches - it takes about 30 minutes to reel them in."

Harding says Coleman is the real outdoors expert.

"John took me duck hunting for the first time, with Perry Simmons (their classmate, an offensive tackle from Raleigh's Sanderson High)," Harding said. "He showed us around Florence. We had a good time calling in some ducks. I don't think I was very successful, but I had a great time. You have to bring earplugs to ride in John's car. He's always calling ducks."

"I'm obsessed with duck hunting," Coleman added.

But he's apparently not obsessed with just blending in at Duke.

"John's country accent is few and far between around here," Harding said.

Coleman didn't disagree.

"People are constantly like, 'Where the hell are you from?' " Coleman said with a laugh. "They know it's not from the Northeast. I guess I get it from my dad. His accent is just thick as syrup."

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