At the beginning of every week last fall Laurent Duvernay-Tardif sorted through his schedule. Medical school rotations, hours in the lab and overnight shifts abounded. When would he fit in a football practice?
That's right: one practice. Duvernay-Tardif, the best player at McGill, the consensus projected No. 1 pick in May's CFL draft and a man with a fighting chance of making the NFL, was practicing just once a week—and he was still the best college player in Canada.
The 6'5", 315-pound offensive tackle laughs as he explains in his heavily accented English. He's had enough of a taste of U.S. football and the process leading up to the NFL draft to know how ridiculous it sounds. Imagine one of Nick Saban's linemen at Alabama telling the coach, But, you see, I really want to be a doctor.... Imagine.
If Duvernay-Tardif, 23, makes it to the NFL next fall—25 teams are expected at his pro day, scheduled for March 27—he will be one of the most interesting prospects the league has seen. Having already put more student into student-athlete, he now hopes to add more player to player safety.
Just a few courses short of an M.D., Duvernay-Tardif is both aware of football's risks and motivated to find ways to minimize them. In February he became an endorser and adviser for Shockbox, a company that makes wireless sensors that transmit data about hits to a digital application. The tiny sensors are fixed with an adhesive to the fronts of helmets, and though the sensors don't diagnose concussions, they do measure force and can give sideline doctors and players more information to decide when to test for head injuries.
To Danny Crossman, a former bomb-disposal officer in the British army who created the product, Duvernay-Tardif was the perfect face for Shockbox. "He's looking at [football] from the point of view of keeping his head in one piece," Crossman says. Duvernay-Tardif is slightly less vociferous on the subject—he seems to have learned that too much talk of concussions will raise the NFL's ire—but he knows the facts. "I think everybody's working to prevent concussions," he says, "and I've tried to do a bit of work on my side."
Duvernay-Tardif says he's been given no indication that the NFL would forbid him to wear a sensor. Rules, however, will probably dictate that the data from the tackle's helmet go only to him, not to Crossman and the Shockbox databases.
But for Duvernay-Tardif, blending football and medicine is about more than concussions. Last year he did an internship with McGill's team doctors, and he also attended the Canadiens' training camp, where he helped with team physicals. From the experience he became certain that he wants to go into sports medicine once he finishes playing the game.
With so many warring commitments, it might sound as if football has been an afterthought for Duvernay-Tardif. That couldn't be further from the truth. Playing professionally has been his dream for years, and the minute he steps onto the field he shuts medicine out. If a player gets injured, Duvernay-Tardif might go into doctor mode, but only in his head and only for a moment. J.P. Darche, another former McGill player and medical student who was a long snapper in the NFL for nine years, confirms this need to detach. "That's something, I think if you're going to be able to play football, you've got to be able to block it out," he says. "You can't think about the things that could happen."
In November, Duvernay-Tardif put his studies on hold to work out at Petrone Training in Knoxville, Tenn., with players from Baylor, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Although he didn't snare an NFL combine invite, he did play in the East-West Shrine Game, and he was impressive, according to Montreal Alouettes scout Russ Lande, who has worked in the NFL. "I really believe if he'd been a kid that had gotten recruited even at a small Division I school, you'd be talking about him going in the third or fourth round," Lande says.
If an NFL team comes calling—and more than one seem likely to—Duvernay-Tardif will spurn the CFL and head south. McGill has given him five years to finish the final year of his medical degree, and he's confident he can do so. For now it's football and only football, he says—well, almost.
He laughs again. He has one pediatric rotation to squeeze in before the CFL draft. He's not sure how, but he'll be ready for OTAs, ready to cause the injuries he'll one day fix, ready to prove that players can be more than the sum of their practice habits.
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