Chiefs' draft pick doubles as budding doctor

5/26/2014

By Vahe Gregorian

By Vahe Gregorian

The Kansas City Star

(MCT) — On perhaps the most consequential day of his young life, as anxious friends and reporters expecting him to be chosen on the second day of the NFL Draft waited for him at his Montreal apartment, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was detained.

The delay was unavoidable, though the reason seldom if ever before had occupied a legitimate prospective pick amid the selection process.

"I was signing out all my patients, and at, like, 5:30, we had a call from the (operating room) for an emergency C-section with premature twins," said Duvernay-Tardif, who was finishing his third year as a medical student at McGill University.

Amid a rotation in the neonatal intensive-care unit, Duvernay-Tardif's role was to immediately care for the first newborn.

"There's protocol, you have to look for any meconium aspiration, you have to suction . . . so you end up doing a lot," he said.

As it happened, Duvernay-Tardif was better off being distracted.

He wasn't drafted until a day later, when the Chiefs plucked him in the sixth round as the 200th pick overall and just the second McGill player _ and the rare Canadian collegian _ drafted by the NFL.

They're rarities for a reason, coming from a land where hockey is the dominant sporting passion _ and curling rules, too _ with more than 650,000 participants. Youth football typically is an afterthought with rules that vary from the U.S. style.

But Duvernay-Tardif is a rarity himself, which is why Chiefs general manager John Dorsey called him a "very interesting fella" whose size and athleticism made him an "intriguing" prospect.

He might be a project, but it's impossible to not to see serious potential in Duvernay-Tardif, who began to get serious attention after participating in the East-West Shrine game in January.

And cerebral, nurturing elements aside, he apparently has an edgy on-field mentality.

"He's the kind of guy other players hate," coach Clint Uttley told the McGill Alumni news. "He's mean out there. He looks to break their spirit and touch their soul."

After losing 25 pounds, he's about 6 feet 5, 300 as he began the Chiefs' three-day rookie minicamp on Saturday.

At his pro day before the draft, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds, had a 31.5-inch vertical jump, did the three-cone drill in 7.3 seconds and had 33 bench-press reps.

What's all that data mean? Numbers "as good as any offensive lineman" at the NFL Combine, talent guru Gil Brandt wrote for NFL.com.

But part of the Chiefs' fascination with him is linked to their belief that he has enormous capacity to learn, based at least in part on his alter ego as a budding doctor who would be on trajectory to graduate a year from now if not for this adventure.

So never mind that he's never played guard before and, in fact, only has been playing offensive line for two years . . . and a scrambled two years at that.

"Only one of those years I got coached, because the (offensive-line coach), like, quit at the beginning of last season," said Duvernay-Tardif, whose first language is French. He began speaking English four years ago when he arrived at McGill for his pre-med year.

Moreover . . .

"The last two seasons were really like a nightmare, because I was really working full time in the hospital," said Duvernay-Tardif, noting he missed so much of the last training camp that "the first day I put my shoulder pads on was like the night before the first game."

Add it all up, and Duvernay-Tardif isn't quite a blank slate, but at least he probably doesn't have much to unlearn.

"I know the principles, but I know nothing about, like, footwork and all the terminology and technique," he said. "So I think I have to learn everything."

Perhaps it's no surprise that he sees that as more exciting than daunting considering his thirst to learn.

He chose a career in medicine, he said, "because it's a perfect balance between pure science, and anatomy and physiology, and social science, where you work with people."

His embrace of such intellectual curiosity seems to have been cultivated by his parents, entrepreneurs who have transitioned from the business of vineyards to bakeries.

As testimony to their attempts to encourage their three children to think beyond boundaries, they twice took them on approximately yearlong educational sailing trips down the East Coast of the U.S. to the Caribbean.

"I think it just made our family really tight; we were on a 40-foot-long boat," Duvernay-Tardif said. "Sometimes, we were like 10 days without seeing any towns, just going from desert island to desert island. . . . (Once), we went, like, five straight days without seeing ground.

"I think it just opened your mind to different cultures, to different people, different ways of living."

Duvernay-Tardif also plays the violin and is an avid cross-country skiier whose first sport was hockey, but he got tired of "skating backwards" as a defenseman, he said, laughing.

Football didn't immediately appeal to him until he began to sense the game within the game, the analytical and psychological elements.

Now, of course, he's about to experience an entirely different tier in a slightly different game played by 11 men a side instead of 12 and with no buffer zone in the interior line.

"It's hard to be super-aggressive when you don't know what's happening, so it's important to master the playbook before going on the field," he said, laughing and adding, "Right now, I have the feeling that I'm studying more than I've ever studied for medicine. . . .

"At the same time, if you want to be good in medical school you have to be logical. Because you cannot learn everything by heart, so you have to go by system and have a good approach, and it's a bit the same thing with football.

"If you want to be able to learn a concept, you have to go by logic. . . . When you learn everything by heart, I think it's not a good way to have success."

There are some who've questioned whether his success in one area might be more fruitful without his dedication to the other.

Duvernay-Tardif resents that constrained thinking, though, and says he has the capability to do a "complete abstraction" in terms of concentrating on and dedicating himself to one or the other at a time.

And it's clear the improbable tandem interests have made for a certain balance in his life.

When it comes to med school, which he plans to resume piecemeal next offseason, being a football player means little, really.

"You're kind of nobody," he said. "I think it's good for you, because it helps keep you grounded."

Meanwhile, working to become a sports medicine specialist is a fine thing to be doing when your other pursuit is a sport in which your next play could be your last.

All of which makes him a "very interesting fella," indeed.

"I just made the sacrifice at other places than those two places, and I was able to do it, and I'm very proud of that," he said. "I hope later on in my life I'm going to be able to tell people, 'Hey, just fight for what you want, and you're going to be able to get it.'

"I'm sure I won't regret it. And if (football) doesn't work, I'm going to have, like, a huge . . . second Plan A."

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