Sensing call of duty, Canada's Duvernay-Tardif traded O-line for pandemic front line

·5 min read

Not unlike many of Canada's most prominent athletes, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif wants to be on the right side of history during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2020, the Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., native became the first of 69 players to opt out of the NFL season under the league's adjusted collective bargaining agreement, leaving behind a defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City team favoured to repeat.

The first active NFL player to become a licensed MD, Duvernay-Tardif virtuously swapped the offensive line for the pandemic's front line and has been serving as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Montreal since late August — 10 weeks after winning Super Bowl LIV.

"My goal right now is to be the best orderly I can be," Duvernay-Tardif told CBC Sports. "Opting out of the season was a big decision for me, but even though I love football my role this year was to care for the elderly in Montreal and help the healthcare system in general."

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A genuine renaissance man, the 6'5" 321-pound guard is no stranger to balancing medicine and football among other activities, having done so since entering the league as a sixth-round draft choice out of McGill University in 2014.

"For the past six years that's what I've been doing," he said. "Going from playing professional football and boom, you lose in the playoffs and then you've got to transition and become a medical student and change that mentality of playing in front of 80-thousand people."

Duvernay-Tardif — who teammates refer to as 'Larry' in order to avoid mispronouncing his first name — graduated from medical school in 2018 and has witnessed an improbable on-field ascension since making the leap to pro football.

Since taking ownership of Kansas City's right guard job early in his second season, he's started 57 of the 60 games he's been active for, earning a merited five-year, $42.36-million US extension in 2017 as one of the highest-paid players in his position at the time.

Balancing football and studies

Ultimately, there may not have been a better organization Duvernay-Tardif could have been drafted by in order to realistically pursue both careers.

In the team's affable head coach Andy Ried, 'LDT' discovered someone who would become a champion of his lofty ambition in the medical field, while others had questioned his commitment to football because of it.

Coincidentally, Reid's mother, Elizabeth, was one of the first women to graduate in medicine from McGill years prior.

Always quick to praise Reid for his role as an ally throughout the process of balancing his studies with pro football en route to his graduation, in 2018 Duvernay-Tardif said, "I don't think it would've been possible if it was not for him."

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Though his on-field career has been an underdog story of triumph and dedication, Duvernay-Tardif's commitment to helping others off it was equally influential in him being named co-winner of the 2020 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's athlete of the year — sharing the honour with prodigious soccer star Alphonso Davies.

Since 2018, the 29-year-old has been working with ace mental performance coach Jean François Ménard, author of the book Train (Your Brain) Like an Olympian: Gold Medal Techniques to Unleash Your Potential at Work.

Ménard is among those least-surprised by Duvernay-Tardif's ability to effectively juggle tasks and remain focused.

"He's an unbelievable football player, but also unbelievably great at everything else he does as a student, as a medical practitioner and it requires a lot of discipline and a lot of focus," Ménard told CBC Sports. "To be able to reset and refocus on whatever you're doing — it doesn't matter if you're on the football field or if you're managing several patients in one day — it [requires] the same mental skills."

The pair spoke at length following Duvernay-Tardif's heavy decision to opt out of the 2020 NFL season. A poignant moment that Ménard believes his friend made out of a sense of duty.

"What I was really proud of is that he followed what he truly believed in. It was emotional," Ménard said.

"He felt valuable. He felt like he was contributing. Maybe not contributing to a squad of 50 football players, but contributing to a whole society."

Meanwhile, on the field, Duvernay-Tardif's team will be flying to Tampa Bay on Saturday ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl LV showdown with Tom Brady and the host Buccaneers, who aim to become the first team to win the title game at home in the Super Bowl era (1966 onward).

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While the sedulous medical doctor has been kept busy throughout the course of the NFL season, he ensures he'll be cheering his team on when the game kicks off.

"As the season went on and as the [team is] heading into the playoffs and now going to the Super Bowl I got in touch a little more with my teammates," Duvernay-Tardif said. "It's nice because even though I'm far away I still feel like I belong to this team."

As for the outcome of the game, the humble-yet-confident Duvernay-Tardif was unwavering in delivering his prediction.

"[My team] is going to win."