For Pete's Sake

Chiefs’ Laurent Duvernay-Tardif once gave up football because he wasn’t fluent in English

Kansas City Chiefs lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (middle) blocked for quarterback Alex Smith.
Kansas City Chiefs lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (middle) blocked for quarterback Alex Smith. File photo

Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif told The Star’s Terez A. Paylor in March that despite signing a huge contract with the Chiefs this year, it won’t stop him from pursuing his goal of being a doctor.

Duvernay-Tardif wrote an essay for The Players’ Tribune and expounded on life as an NFL player who is also trying to get his medical degree.

In fact, he briefly gave up football because of school. Specifically, it was because Duvernay-Tardif didn’t wasn’t fluent in English. He grew up in Quebec and explained in the essay that there are four top medical schools in the province, and three are French-speaking, which is the language of the college he attended.

He was accepted to McGill University, which is English-speaking.

“I didn’t really speak a whole lot of English,” Duvernay-Tardif wrote.

“Before I enrolled, everyone kept telling me that my English wasn’t quite good enough for the rigors of medical school, and that I would really need to devote all my energies to academics if I wanted to have any chance of success. Football, they told me, was just a hobby — a distraction. Even though every part of me wanted to play, I initially decided to follow a commonsense plan and give my full attention to medical school. I figured that sometimes others can see things you can’t. Right?

“Well, not always.

“Three weeks into my first semester, I wasn’t feeling like myself. I couldn’t focus, and I also couldn’t shake this feeling inside of me that something was missing. I found myself watching a lot of football. When I couldn’t go to McGill’s games, I’d watch them on TV. I felt off-kilter, and it was clear to me what I needed to do in order to get out of my funk. So a few weeks into the semester, I approached McGill’s head coach — who had recruited me just a few months earlier — and told him that I had made a real mistake. Fortunately he agreed to let me join the team, and I played on the defensive line that year.”

Duvernay-Tardif wrote that he spent much of his time away from football at a restaurant that streamed school lectures and “cross-referencing them with a French-English dictionary. I was lucky to have the help of a really pretty waitress named Florence, who not only spoke English, but who would also eventually become my girlfriend.”

In fall semesters, Duvernay-Tardif wrote, his grades were always better during football season as he adhered to a strict schedule that balanced his pursuits.

After being switched to the offensive line at McGill, Duvernay-Tardif realized he might have a shot at the NFL. That became a reality when the Chiefs chose Duvernay-Tardif with the 200th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

“My initial reaction was immense excitement. I was only the 15th person to be drafted by the NFL straight out of the U Sports (Canada’s version of the NCAA). I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” Duvernay-Tardif wrote.

“Then, after a few moments of elation, the next thing I felt was panic. I was told that I needed to be on a plane to Kansas City the very next morning — when I was also scheduled to be on rotation.

“So my first thought wasn’t, Oh, my God, this is amazing!

“It was, Oh, my God, how am I going to explain this to the dean?”

He added: “Anyone familiar with medical school understands that the schedules aren’t flexible. They’re set in stone. And that was a problem for me.

“I had to scramble to get ahold of the dean and let him know about the situation. Prior to me taking a four-month break to train for the draft, we had devised a four-year schedule to account for my final year of rotations. What we hadn’t accounted for was me having to fly out to Kansas City right after getting picked. Luckily he was incredibly understanding. He told me to do what I needed to do, and that we’d work out the details later.

“That was when I finally allowed myself to celebrate. I was officially a Kansas City Chief. Me, a French Canadian kid from the South Shore of Montreal. I was going to play in the NFL.”

You can read more of Duvernay-Tardif’s essay here.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff