Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has accomplished quite a bit in his 26 years on the planet. After a successful stint with the McGill University Redmen, the Mont-Saint-Hilaire native caught the eye of the Kansas City Chiefs' scouting staff, and the Chiefs' offensive line has come to count on him bigtime in his three seasons with the club. On top of his success at the NFL level and the big contract he signed this winter, Duvernay-Tardif is on his way to completing his medical degree and will one day swap his cleats out for a stethoscope. Ahead of his fourth NFL season, we sat down with the 6-foot-5, 321-pounder to learn a bit more about his experience south of the border.
Do you ever pinch yourself when you think about where you've gotten and the path you've taken to get there?
LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF: Every year, you reach new goals when it comes to personal development. There are lots of things to accomplish, but at the same time, that's what's fun about it. I'm the kind of guy who gets motivated by plans and projects, so when it's the off-season - which is four months long - I don't see that as an opportunity to just "chill." (laughs) Last winter, I did everything I set out to do, including three months of medical school, and it went well. We set up a foundation which is promising and well-structured, with good partners. Through all that, I was able to work out intensely so I'd get to Kansas City in shape. I always come a bit late, Coach [Andy] Reid gives me a hard time for coming a month after the others. I'm always a bit nervous to see how I'm going to fit in with everyone who's already there, in terms of the amount of workouts and physical preparation. It went really well.
You spent the winter studying in order to eventually complete your medical degree. Was it tough to go from protecting your quarterback one week to diving back into your books the next?
LDT: I had three good weeks between the time the Chiefs were eliminated from the playoffs and the start of my semester last winter. During that time, I was able to get back into the groove of studying and shake off the rust with medical concepts and terms. On the other hand, I didn't really think I'd be signing a contract extension in my first month of studying. This year, getting back into it wasn't so bad, because I've already done it where I only had a six-day break between the end of my season and resuming my studies. A football season is very taxing on the body, so the transition from one season to another allows you to recover. The NFL supports us very well in order to help us optimize our performance. When you get to the world of medicine, you're at the bottom of the ladder. You're not at your peak. It really changes your dynamic and perspective, because all our attention is given to the patients. They're two completely different dynamics, but at the same time, it allows you to stay grounded. When you come back to the department of medicine and you go back to being at the bottom of the ladder, your ego takes a hit.
When you were in Montreal during the winter, were you able to go unnoticed on the street or did people start recognizing you everywhere, including at the hospital?
LDT: It's been happening more often. Also, when I'm working in the emergency room, the patients tend to be a bit younger than when I'm working in internal medicine. People know me a bit more and it gets me to think about ethical issues and about being professional. At the end of the day, I'm a medical student, I'm not an authority figure, but people will talk to me because they're impressed. It's something I have to pay more and more attention to. At first, I found it funny to be taking selfies, but I've thought about it a lot because it's something that'll only get bigger as time goes on. I definitely like meeting people; I know they're happy when they recognize me and that's why I stop to talk to them a bit. The least I can do is say hi to them.
How much pride do you get out of representing Montreal and Quebec on a big platform such as the NFL?
LDT: It makes me very proud and that's why I want to make sure other Quebecers know that it is possible to make it to the NFL. I was able to do it and it'll inspire others to as well. Over the last five years or so, there's been a lot more interest in the draft because Quebecers are getting picked. It's going in the right direction and I take a lot of pride in being a part of the momentum. To be the French-Canadian in Kansas City and to share my values, it's important.
Did you follow what was going on with the Canadiens while you were in town?
LDT: I mostly followed the Canadiens when I was finishing high school and in CEGEP. I like watching games, but I never had a TV in my apartment. I also didn't have one growing up; I don't even have cable in Kansas City. It was never a big part of my life to be constantly watching sports. It's the same thing with the NFL; I don't watch games on Monday or Thursday nights. Instead, I study video of our opponents on my iPad. I spend a lot of time studying opponents' technique and strategy.
People often say that Arrowhead Stadium is one of the loudest in the NFL. Keeping in mind that it's on a much smaller scale, how would you compare the ambiance in Kansas City to the Bell Centre's?
LDT: I've been to the Bell Centre a few times and the ambiance is really impressive. I find the angle of the stands is really something. You could almost slide onto the ice! Even if Arrowhead Stadium's capacity is four times the Bell Centre's, the atmosphere is impressive. That said, the Bell Centre is built to be loud. In Kansas City, it's a huge open stadium and despite that, it's still very loud and full of energy. I get shivers every time the national anthem finishes and the jets fly overhead. But it's two different experiences.
Did you play hockey when you were younger? If yes, what kind of player were you?
LDT: A bit of street hockey for fun, but I never played in an organized league because I was too big! (laughs) I switched over to football pretty quickly.
What would you say hurts more: a solid bodycheck on the ice, or getting smacked by Von Miller, who can come at you like a freight train?
LDT: Honestly, I think it's a hockey hit. It seems like it hurts a lot to get hit into the boards. In football, it's two human bodies colliding. But the idea of having my body crushed between a human being and a wall, in my mind, that hurts more. (laughs)
Who is the most intimidating defensive player you've had to face so far?
LDT: It depends. Some players are good in one aspect of the game while others will be good at several things all at once. Whether it's J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Aaron Donald or Michael Bennett, they're all extremely talented players and you have to be well prepared to play against them. You can never let up, because everyone is good in the NFL.
You often hear that there's a lot of trash talk on the line of scrimmage, is it as bad as it seems?
LDT: It really depends. I remember last year when we played against the Tampa Bay buccaneers. After the first quarter, Gerald McCoy tapped me on the shoulder and said, "How's it going? I heard you're in med school, that's really cool." When he left, I told myself that I couldn't be his friend, it was really weird. (laughs) But my English isn't good enough for me to partake in that just yet!
How different will it be when you show up to Chiefs camp this summer, with a degree of security in the form of the long-term contract you signed this winter - something you didn't have before?
LDT: I don't think anything has changed. On the field, I want to make sure things stay the same. I know that lots of guys are battling for the same eight spots on the offensive line. On my days off, I'm going to keep working out just the same. Having that little sense of insecurity is important, I think. I'm considered a veteran now and it's become part of my job to keep the team together. It's an honor to be able to do that.
Have some of your teammates started calling you "doctor"?
LDT: I would say it started three years ago when no one was able to pronounce my name, and so I was getting all kinds of nicknames. "Doctor" is only one of the many. (laughs)
How is the 2017 season shaping up for the Chiefs?
LDT: We didn't make the playoffs in my first season with the Chiefs, in 2014. The next season, we squeaked our way in and last year, we took the division championship, and our division is known for being one of the toughest in the League. We're on the right path and with some new additions, both on offense and defense, we have more depth and experience.