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McGill offensive lineman Duvernay-Tardif content to mix football with medicine

03/18/2014 06:53 EDT | Updated 05/18/2014 05:59 EDT
He's still an agonizing two months away from knowing where he'll begin his pro football career, but Laurent Duvernay-Tardif isn't the least bit anxious.

The towering McGill Redmen offensive lineman is at peace these days knowing his future not only involves a shot at playing professional football but also a career afterwards as a doctor.

"I love football, I love medicine and I have both right now so I can't complain," the six-foot-six, 315-pound medical student said recently after working a night shift in the pediatric emergency ward of a Montreal hospital. "Throughout my university career there were many people who told me I'd have to make a choice, that I wouldn't be able to combine medicine and football.

"But I did and now I believe I'll have the opportunity to play professional football and continue my medical career at the same time. That's the perfect situation for me. I couldn't be happier."

The articulate 23-year-old native of St. Hilaire, Que., finished the season as the top-ranked prospect for this year's CFL draft, slated for May 13. But Duvernay-Tardif has also drawn interest south of the border and is projected on the NFL website as a third- or fourth-round selection in this year's draft, which will be held May 8-10.

Heady stuff, considering Duvernay-Tardif began his college career as a 253-pound defensive lineman and only switched to offence in 2011. McGill also accommodated Tardif's academic demands by reducing his practice commitments during football season.

But he still twice earned All-Canadian honours and in 2013 captured the Metras trophy as Canadian university football's top lineman.

"He is what everybody would want in a first-round pick and the consensus No. 1 pick," said Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins, who holds the first overall selection in the CFL draft. "He has talent, he has character, he has intelligence, he has all those elements.

"You evaluate what he does on the field and factor the other stuff in. Does it (Duvernay-Tardif's NFL aspirations) enter your decision-making process at the end of the day? Yeah, for sure. That would be something we'd consider, absolutely."

Many of this year's top CFL prospects will participate in the league's annual evaluation camp this weekend in Toronto. But Duvernay-Tardif won't be there, opting instead to focus on his pro day next week in Montreal.

Duvernay-Tardif wanted to attend to speak with CFL coaches and GMs. But the league decided to give his spot to another player who'd participate in the drills.

"I'm super OK with that," Duvernay-Tardif said. "The reason I didn't want to go is I wanted to be fresh for my pro day for both NFL and CFL (scouts).

"I think it (pro day) will be a great experience, there will be something like 22 (NFL) scouts confirmed to be there."

The scouting report on Duvernay-Tardif says he has the size, strength, athleticism, temperament and intelligence to play at the next level. McGill head coach Clint Uttley said that's an accurate assessment.

"Size and strength is a big factor in success on the O-line but when you find someone that possesses the combination of brains, brawn and nastiness that Laurent has on the field, then you've got a real keeper," he said. "He's the kind of guy other players hate. He's mean out there.

"He looks to break their spirit and touch their soul. I believe he will have a good pro career, whether it be in the CFL or NFL."

The biggest knock against Duvernay-Tardif is his inexperience as an offensive lineman. NFL scouts also point to his playing a yard off the ball at McGill and subsequent need to get into his blocks quicker.

But Duvernay-Tardif has experience playing the American game. He participated in the East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, Fla., last January.

"I was a little stressed at first because you hear about all the best players in the NCAA being there," he said. "I knew when I went on the field my technique wouldn't be as good (as other offensive linemen) but I also knew I was athletic and strong enough to be there.

"I went there with this mentality and it went super well. I think I turned some heads and everybody was impressed, which was a good sign. But of course, I have to work on my technique, I still have a lot to learn. Technique is the big thing."

But it's the precision required on offence and having to pay attention to detail that Duvernay-Tardif enjoys most about being an offensive lineman.

"On the D-line, it was much more instinctive for me," he said. "You had a responsibility, you had a gap you had to go through and try to make the tackle.

"There's a lot more teamwork on the offensive line, the blocking schemes are much more complicated. You have to work as a unit, you have a lot more film to watch on the defensive linemen you're playing against and how you're going to block everything. I really love the strategy involved."

Regardless of where he plays football next year Duvernay-Tardif will continue his studies in the off-season, with the hope of getting into sports medicine once his playing days are over.

"That's why football fits in with medicine in my case," he said. "Last season I was following our team physician and it was a great experience.

"I'd like to specialize in sports medicine. I don't how it's going to end up but I'd like to follow a national team."

Duvernay-Tardif has done much more at McGill than serve as the co-captain of the football team in 2012-13 and carry a demanding academic load. He was presented the school's 1938 Champions Award for combining leadership with athletic prowess and academic excellence.

He was also named to the McGill chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society for academic recognition and community service. And he volunteered in 2012 with a Montreal police department program aimed at encouraging youth to play sports, has worked with heroin addicts at a clinic, spoken at many Montreal high schools and spent many hours at various local hospitals.

Duvernay-Tardif credits medicine for giving him a very level-headed demeanour in dealing with the indecision that exists with his football future.

"I think it's because I have a pretty good Plan B, which is medicine," he said. "Not knowing (where he'll play in '14) is hard when you want to make plans but can't because you don't know if or when you might be able to do something.

"But it's not frustrating, it's just part of the game and everyone is in that boat right now."

Duvernay-Tardif isn't allowing himself the luxury of dreaming of an NFL career, choosing not to look past the league's draft in May.

"I want to stay focused on my studies because I need to pass my rotation to be able to continue in medicine," he said. "For me, the draft is the end of a long process and maybe the beginning of a new one but I'm not looking any further than that right now."

And if an NFL career doesn't pan out, Duvernay-Tardif would be more than content plying his trade in the CFL.

"The CFL would be a great advantage for me because I could also study in the city where I'm playing," he said. "The certification for a doctor is the same everywhere in Canada and to be able to do the (hospital) rotation and play football in Canada would be very attractive."

But that doesn't mean football would take a back seat to medicine.

"I want to be a doctor in the future, for sure," Duvernay-Tardif. "But right now I want to focus on football.

"This is my chance to do that and I want to play and after that go back to school."

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