Meet the NFL's Canadian renaissance man, Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Kansas City's smiling right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is a key part of the Chiefs' fast start, and the first medical doctor to play in the NFL.

Story highlights

  • Chiefs guard received M.D. this year
  • Studied 14 hours a day for finals
  • Is tenth player drafted out of Canada

Carson, California (CNN)Standing six-foot five-inches and weighing 321-pounds, Montreal native Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is not your average doctor.

The fifth-year NFL right guard is an integral part of the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs offensive line -- and a recent graduate of The Faculty of Medicine at McGill University.
Although team doctors have been pacing NFL sidelines for decades, Duvernay-Tardif is the first physician to suit up in pads and rough it up on the field.
    "It's a pretty awesome feeling," the 27-year-old told CNN, after a big opening week road win over the Los Angeles Chargers. "It's good to step on that field knowing that you're the first active player with an M.D."
    "You know, I've been working eight years for that, and all those times that people were like, 'You cannot do both, you have got to pick one or the other,' I decided to stay true to myself and keep going, keep grinding with that vision."

    The Chiefs' big payoff

    Kansas City made Duvernay-Tardif a sixth-round pick in 2014, in what was probably seen as a chancy move.
    After all, being drafted from a Canadian college football program is a rarity: He is only the tenth in the past 52 years, according to data provided by Sportsnet. But the Quebecer forced his way onto the Chiefs' starting rotation by his second season.
    The player walked into a unique situation at Kansas City. By coincidence, the mother of Chiefs' coach Andy Reid graduated with a medical degree -- also from McGill University.
    "Not all the coaches saw my second career with that same optimism," Duvernay-Tardif told ESPN. "Some coaches asked me, 'How do we really know you want to play football?'"
    With Reid's blessing, Duvernay-Tardiff continued his studies, returning to Montreal during offseasons to fulfill his clinical rotations in pediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics and his preferred specialization emergency medicine.
    "For the past four years I've been back and forth," he says, with a French inflection that exposes his roots. "As soon as the season is over I go back home and start my training."
    To prepare for his final exams after last season, Duvernay-Tardif isolated himself in an apartment outside of Montreal and studied up to 14 hours a day, citing Reid's mantra of avoiding distractions.
    He graduated as a fully-fledged doctor in May, wearing a white lab coat after the ceremony with his uniform number 76 stitched on the back.
    Although Duvernay-Tardiff expects to begin his residency training in two years, his stellar play may put his medical career on hold.
    Last year he was rewarded with a $41.25 million contract extension that commits him to football through the 2022 season.
    With the way the Chiefs are playing, Reid is unlikely to tinker with the offensive line. Behind the doctor and his fellow linemen, the team is averaging a league-high 40 points in two wins this season.
    The unit has given up just two sacks, allowing quarterback Patrick Mahomes enough time to throw 10 touchdowns and no interceptions with a completion rate of nearly 70%.

    'It's a contact sport'

    Given his background, it's no surprise that a few Chiefs teammates have approached Duvernay-Tardiff for advise on a tweaked shoulder, jammed thumb or other daily NFL ailments.
    Though he is careful not to tread on team doctors -- "I kind of made it clear that it was not my role to do that when I'm here," he says -- the Canadian has a passion for sports medicine and sits on the NFL Players Association Health and Safety Committee.
    "I want to do as much as I can to make the sport as safe as possible," he says. "While I'm here I cannot get into training, so I might as well get involved and try and do something."
    Playing a notoriously dangerous sport known for head injuries may seem contradictory for a doctor. But despite Duvernay-Tardiff suffering a concussion himself during preseason, he views his time in the NFL as an opportunity.
    "Of course, it's a contact sport and there is the risk of injury," he says, "and we hear a lot about concussion.
    "The good news is that I can kind of bring a unique perspective as both an M.D. and a football player, and I want to try and help the field of research."
    "There is so much we don't know," he adds. "There is a big gray zone when it comes to data regarding concussion, and I want to be part of the research."
    Among his research projects, Duvernay-Tardiff has worked with a Seattle-based I1 Biometric, a company that measures the effects of head impact with performance.

    Breaking boundaries

    As though balancing medicine and the NFL were not enough, Duvernay-Tardif added another career path to his resume this year at the Winter Olympics in Korea.
    He was contracted as a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, interviewing athletes and producing daily short segments.
    "It was awesome," he says, with boyish enthusiasm. "It was my dream to go to the Olympics, and I quickly realized I was not going to go as an athlete.
    "I applied for that job, and my concept was to have an athlete to athlete conversation, talk about preparation, and give a little bit of the behind the scenes of science and sports medicine and nutrition."
    Going into this season, Duvernay-Tardif reportedly applied to have M.D. stitched as a suffix on his jersey -- another potential first -- but was denied by the NFL.
      "It was an idea, but I think it's a little too complicated," he says. "You're allowed to put your name (on the jersey), but you're not allowed to put anything else.
      "And my name is Duvernay-Tardif, and it's plenty long enough like that."