By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky senior defensive lineman Calvin Taylor Jr. worked his way into the starting lineup for the final 10 games last year when the Wildcats won 10 games, including the Citrus Bowl.
He knows he has a chance to be one of the anchors for a defense that was hard hit by losses in the secondary and linebacker. However, a summer mission trip to Ethiopia has provided even more incentive for Taylor.
“When I got back (to Lexington) and started working out, I had a new drive and respect to work out and do a little extra,” said Taylor.
Taylor along with teammates Landon Young and Boogie Watson made the 17-hour plane ride to spend five days in Ethiopia through UK Athletics and Ordinary Hero, a group dedicated to improving the way of life for those living in Ethiopia needing food, medicine, housing, education and more.
“I think we all have pieces of Ethiopia we brought back with us,” Taylor said. “I have a bracelet I wear every day. Just something to remind me of where I was. I can see something even on TV now and it will give me a flashback to where I was.
“This (the trip) is something that will be with me forever. Some guys (that went to Ethiopia) before, they (kids in Ethiopia) still remember. They will always have a little piece of me.”
Young, a junior offensive lineman, returned home with one clear thought — how good he has it. Something as simple as getting into a car with air conditioning now has new meaning for him because there was no air conditioning in Ethiopia.
“We get to play (football) for free on scholarship,” Young said. “We are able to get a hot meal any time. Being able to eat as much as we want … it humbles you that we have it so good and these kids (in Ethiopia) were so selfless. They shared their only meal with others. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something I never would have been able to do if not for UK football.”
He knows the Ethiopian children enjoyed their visit and will remember it for years. He joked the visit would be like a fish story that just keeps getting bigger and better in stories the children tell.
“Just giving them an experience that they may never have again was great,” Young said. “Ordinary Hero is there to try and break the cycle but it’s hard for everyone to break that cycle. Some of those kids living in Korah (a village where residents rely on waste in the trash dump for food, clothing and more) will probably live there the rest of their lives but they can at least look back and say these big guys came over and they got to go to a movie or ate with them. It was impactful for us just thinking we were maybe planting a seed for those kids to have a better life.”
Watson, a junior linebacker, had never been out of the country but says he’ll remember the trip “forever” due in large part to what he saw at Korah.
“They said when the airport drops off trash, it’s like a five-star meal for them,” Watson said. “Seeing kids and families live off that stuff was kind of crazy to me. Growing up I complained that I didn’t want McDonald’s because I wanted this or that. Seeing that (in Ethiopia) makes it very hard for me to ever complain about a meal or anything.
“They live completely different lives but everyone still has a smile on their face. They really do not have much to be happy about from our experiences but they all smile. That makes me grateful to be in the situation I am. I think every day now how blessed I am to be in the situation I am.”
That includes having the opportunity to attend UK and be able to prepare for the upcoming season in facilities like what UK has — with all the food a player wants to eat. Watson said resuming workouts was “easy” after he got back to Kentucky.
“Seeing that makes you work harder. They (Ethiopian children) don’t have the opportunity to work out and go to school for free. The opportunity we are blessed with drives me even harder,” Watson said.