Chiefs' Laurent Duvernay-Tardif leads rare life as football player, future doctor

MONTREAL -- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif might be the NFL’s most interesting man.

He juggles two full-time occupations, one playing offensive line for the Kansas City Chiefs and the other studying medicine at McGill University in his native Montreal.

Medical school is only the beginning of what makes Duvernay-Tardif a rare NFL player. He backpacked through Europe at 16. He has taken two yearlong sailing trips with his family. He’s bilingual, having picked up English to go along with French.

"If they ever want to do a '30 for 30' on an offensive lineman, it would have to be Larry," said Chiefs center Mitch Morse, using the nickname the Chiefs have for their French-Canadian teammate. "The guy is multi-talented."

For now, Duvernay-Tardif concentrates on the two occupations, each demanding in its own way. He tries to compartmentalize. He tells people that when he’s in Kansas City, he’s a football player who also studies medicine, and when he’s in Canada, he’s a med student who also plays football.

The reality is more complex. The 25-year-old has to keep one foot in his other life all the time.

Football was a hobby

While he was growing up in Montreal, becoming a doctor was always Duvernay-Tardif's goal. He enjoyed playing football, but it was mostly a hobby through college.

He turned out to be very good at that hobby. He moved from defensive to offensive line in college and turned into a dominant player. One of his position coaches at McGill, Matthieu Quiviger, predicted after Duvernay-Tardif’s first offensive practice that he would play in the NFL.

"We were practicing in helmets and no pads, but the kid was a savage," Quiviger said. "He just destroyed our best players. This guy was just so much better than everyone else he was playing against."

Knowing medical school was the priority, McGill’s coaches accommodated Duvernay-Tardif’s academic schedule. He was allowed to miss some meetings and practice sessions, as long as he was available to play in games. During his college football seasons, Duvernay-Tardif was required to be at local hospitals at varying hours as part of his curriculum.

"I tried to make practice as often as I could," he said. "Sometimes I would get off a shift, and practice was a few hours later. I would just head over to the locker room by the practice field, take a bunch of towels, put them on the floor and go to sleep right there. The next morning, my teammates would wake me up. They'd kick me in the ribs and tell me it was time to get to practice."

McGill decided Duvernay-Tardif was worth the trouble. He was that good.

"He just destroyed the competition," Darche said. "He was a man among boys up there. I would see video of him playing, and it wasn’t even fair. If he had played at Alabama, he would have been a top-10 pick."

NFL prospect

Word of this offensive line prodigy reached the United States and the NFL, and Duvernay-Tardif's medical studies were viewed warily by some teams.

"People were debating whether I was going to commit 100 percent to football when I had that good of a plan B," Duvernay-Tardif said. "The coach from another team was questioning me, 'How do we know if you have a bad year, you’re not just going to [quit football and] go back to medical school?' That’s a legitimate question."

Duvernay-Tardif had a meeting with Chiefs coach Andy Reid, offensive line coach Andy Heck and then-offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. They asked the same question as other teams: Why would a future doctor want to play football? They were satisfied with his answer.

"The Chiefs saw it that I was playing football because I loved the game," Duvernay-Tardif said. "Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. For them, knowing I was able to manage both at the same time in college was a positive thing. They knew when I was going to be in K.C., I was going to have a perfect work ethic, I was going to stay later, I was going to watch film."

Duvernay-Tardif presented the Chiefs with a plan before the 2014 draft: Until he graduated from medical school in 2017 or 2018, he would be all about football from the start of training camp to the end of the season. For the rest of the year, he would be a medical student who would stay in football shape.

"I told them when I was in Kansas City, I would focus 100 percent on football," Duvernay-Tardif said. “They were, 'All right. Cool. This guy has a plan.' I think that was a factor in their decision to draft me."

Reid recalled approaching that predraft meeting with Duvernay-Tardif with skepticism about his commitment to football. He said it didn’t take long for Duvernay-Tardif to change his mind.

"When you talked to him, you got the sense he was focused in and going," Reid said. "He wanted to play. He’s got a love for it. He loves that part of it, and he loves this part of it. You got that when you talked to him. I felt very comfortable about that when I talked to him.

"The way he’s wired is just different. He’s brilliant, but he can just get down and just be dirty tough. He’s able to separate that. But that dirty tough part, I don’t want him if he’s an orthopedic surgeon to do my knee replacement with that attitude. You understand what I’m saying?"

Reid believes Duvernay-Tardif has lived up to his end of the deal. The Chiefs point to his improvement as evidence. Duvernay-Tardif didn’t play as a rookie, but he broke into the starting lineup the past season. The Chiefs considered him one of their most improved players at training camp this year.

The team excuses him from the first couple weeks of the offseason conditioning program each year so he can fulfill his med school requirements. But Duvernay-Tardif said that when the Chiefs ended their offseason program in June, he had the lowest percentage of body fat among the team’s offensive linemen, at 18 percent.

"I want to be even leaner," he said. "My trademark is to be athletic and fast."

Becoming a Chief

Duvernay-Tardif was expecting to be drafted in the second or third round. At the time, he was serving in the neonatal intensive care unit at a Montreal hospital and expected to be finished with work by the time the second round started.

"I was ready to get out of there," he said. "But there was a lady who went into labor with twins, and she ended up having an emergency C-section. I was not in charge of doing the C-section or anything, but because I was in the neonatal intensive care unit, I had to be in the [operating room] to look after those two newborns and assist the head neonatal intensive care doctor to make sure everything was all right.

"I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and gave it to a nurse, and I was like, 'If there’s a call on that cell phone, can you please pick it up and say yes? Just say yes to whoever it is.'"

The call from the Chiefs came the next day. They drafted Duvernay-Tardif in the sixth round. He was seen as an oddity by his teammates the first time he walked into the Chiefs' locker room.

"The first thing I heard from another offensive lineman was from Donald Stephenson," Duvernay-Tardif said of a player now with the Denver Broncos. "He said, 'If I was a doctor, I wouldn’t be here. Why are you here?' He didn’t understand. Donald was the one who said that to me, but I think the other guys were a little bit asking themselves that question."

Duvernay-Tardif had to prove his football commitment to his teammates before he did so with coaches. One way he tried is by playing to the whistle and sometimes beyond, even in practice. When there’s a scuffle at practice, Duvernay-Tardif is inevitably involved.

"The way I play, I go [all-]out all the time," he said. "That’s maybe, sometimes, even, not a problem but an issue in practice ... It’s always 100 percent. When guys saw me on the field getting after it until the end of the whistle, they’re like, 'OK, we’ve got a lot of respect for that guy.' When you get on the field and show toughness, your teammates feed off that and respect that, I think.

"Now those same [qualities] that made people question me before, they give me my personality in the locker room now. People learned more about me and realized I’m not a nerd. I’m just a guy who loves [football] and has a passion for medical school."

Said Morse, who plays next to Duvernay-Tardif at center, "Sometimes he butchers the English language, and we get a good laugh out of it. Otherwise, he’s just one of us."

Dr. Duvernay-Tardif

Duvernay-Tardif has five months of clinical work remaining before he receives his medical degree from McGill.

"I’m never too far from medicine when I’m in K.C., and I’m never too far from football when I’m here," he said. "I have to stay in shape for football year-round, and I have to stay up-to-date with medicine year-round."

Duvernay-Tardif's July med school rotation, between the end of offseason practice in Kansas City and the start of training camp, often included 10- or 12-hours days in the emergency room of a Montreal hospital. In between shifts several days a week, Duvernay-Tardif worked out at Montreal gym according to a plan laid out for him by the Chiefs. The highlight of one such workout was four lifts of 345 pounds on the bench press. The workouts were a nod to the occupation that pays Duvernay-Tardif's bills. He will make a base salary of $600,000 from the Chiefs this year.

"Every day I’m up here in Montreal I’m thinking about football," he said. "Every day, I’m going to be thinking, 'Camp starts in a month,' or 'Camp starts in three weeks,' and I’m thinking about the things I want to accomplish this year. Even 1,000 miles away from Kansas City, I’ve still got to be ready for training camp."

There’s plenty of evidence that he does both. After an offseason practice in June, Duvernay-Tardif tweeted a photo of a book he was reading poolside at his Kansas City apartment. The title? Rapid Interpretation of EKGs.

Despite his NFL salary, Duvernay-Tardif's lifestyle in Montreal is in line with that of a typical medical student. He usually rides his bicycle to and from hospital shifts. His car is a four-door, black Volkswagen Jetta, another feature that helps him stand out from his teammates back in Kansas City.

"I live on a $60,000 budget. I respected that, with all the travel and the plane tickets for my girlfriend [between Kansas City and Montreal]," he said. "I’m proud of that. Sixty grand for a full year is pretty good. Hopefully, when I become a doctor, it’s not going to be a pay cut. I’m going to make a lot more money."

Duvernay-Tardif's bye week last season was unlike that of any of his teammates. He had postponed a med school exam on orthopedic surgery the previous summer because he had to report to training camp. His test was rescheduled for the Chiefs’ bye week in November, or four days after the team played the Detroit Lions in London.

"I tried to study for that exam leading up to the bye, but I wasn’t able to do it because I had so much football on my plate," he said. "So as soon as we jumped on the plane after that Detroit game, everybody else was partying on the plane, and I had my headset on. I was just studying, studying, studying.

"We got back to K.C. at 3 in the morning. We had a 30-minute meeting with coach Reid. He cut us loose around 4 o'clock. I took a cab straight back to the airport. I took the first flight out at 6 a.m. for Montreal, flew back to Montreal and studied the whole way back. As soon as I landed in Montreal, I slept two hours, studied two hours, slept two hours, studied two hours for three days straight.

"I passed the exam at 61 percent or 63 percent. It was borderline, but I passed it. It was a pass-or-fail exam. I was so pumped. I slept for two days and then flew back to Kansas City. That was my bye week."

Next steps

After graduation, residency is the next medical step for Duvernay-Tardif. He has yet to choose a field, though he is leaning toward emergency.

He’s in no rush. He can’t play football and do his residency at the same time. He will play football while handling medical school responsibilities until 2018 -- at the latest.

One, he believes, helps him with the other.

"In football, you learn that sometimes you lose, even while you’re excellent at doing it," he said. "In medical school, sometimes it’s really hard for people to learn how to lose. Sometimes you’re going to lose the battle in medical school.

"I remember the first time I did CPR on somebody who died. I think I was prepared to live that moment more than somebody who only had, like, straight As in med school and saw that for the first time. In football, you learn to deal with tough situations."

Duvernay-Tardif passed this message on to a couple hundred kids at an elementary school outside Montreal. He talked to the gathering about juggling the rare double of two full-time occupations. In a question-and-answer session, one girl asked what was the biggest accomplishment of his life.

"I told her I haven’t had it yet," Duvernay-Tardif said. "It will be when I’m able to tell people I’m a professional football player and a doctor."