On May 10, 2014 Canadian offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was selected in the sixth round, 200th overall in the National Football League Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound St. Hilaire, Que. native and McGill University product became the 11th player and second offensive linemen ever to be drafted into the NFL from a CIS school. In a multi-part series, Justin Dunk will chronicle Duvernay-Tardif’s journey through his first NFL training camp as he makes the transition from Canadian university football to the NFL level. Part I: Welcome to the NFL, in his own words.
As I walked into the locker room for the first day of training camp I was very excited and in my head it was like, okay, now the real game is starting, my new dream in the NFL is beginning. I have a lot to learn, but at the same time, I am going to give all my energy. Everything is going to happen really fast over the next couple of weeks. I can feel that the pressure is on and you need to produce. It’s not OTAs anymore.
All of the other guys are coming from big NCAA schools and where they were playing in college they had all the same kind of facilities as in the NFL. But for me, coming out from McGill, we have great facilities for a CIS university, but it is nothing compared to an NFL team’s training facility. I’m surprised to see how much money they put into the facility and how much they invest to take care of the players. We not only have ice tubs, but we have a pool full of ice for training camp. It’s hard to imagine it until you see it. I don’t want to say that players take the facilities for granted but for me, as a CIS player, it’s a big change from what I am used to.
Head coach Andy Reid, I knew he was a great coach, but when I met him he really seemed like a coach that takes care of his players. It’s a business, but he really brings a family atmosphere into the locker room and I really appreciate that. I was surprised because everybody helps you understand the playbook as fast as possible so you can help the team as fast as possible. Sure it’s a competitive business where people come and go, but at the same time I really feel that the vets are helping the younger guys assimilate the playbook as fast as possible.
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But still, multiply the difficulty of a CIS playbook by 10 compared to the Chiefs’. It’s about a four-inch binder. It’s a lot bigger, but not only bigger–it’s also more complicated. There is always a ‘what if’. What if the defence is doing that or what if the defence is doing this? You always have to be ready for every possible situation. Our defence in Kansas City is one that runs a lot of pressure fronts, and blitzes, so it’s hard to practice against those guys. But at the same time if we’re able to master our playbook against a defence that blitzes a lot in practice we’re going to be able to execute well during the game. So there is a big learning curve for me, but if I’m able to play well against our defensive line it’s probably going to be a bit easier against other defences.
The first time I went into an inside run period it was intimidating, but when you do great things in that drill you’re like, okay I am able to play against these guys. I have a lot of respect for players like [defensive linemen] Dontari Poe and Mike DeVito. When I line up against–I am practicing as a guard right now–Poe or DeVito, I try to learn as much as I can from the experience. It’s a great feeling when you take a guy that you used to watch on television every week and you’re able to block him. It’s good to feel that you can play with those guys and you have the strength to play against them. All my focus is on football and I’m trying to learn all of the techniques, the game and the playbook as soon as possible so I can play. I have to show coaches that I am able to master the playbook over the next couple of weeks.
The fact that I’m a medical student really helps, I was spending a lot of time studying as well as training hard. I’ve been training hard over the last year. I was in Tennessee training throughout the winter getting ready for the combine and everything. But the full experience of being a pro football player or a pro athlete is kind of new. It’s not only football, but it’s how to live as a pro football player. The vets are helping me throughout that process. I was taking care of my body, but now you realize that if you want to have a job in the NFL you really need to take care of your body because your body is your job. That’s something I have realized. And when I got to Kansas City, now it’s only football. There is nothing else and it’s great. I was a bit unsure if I was going to enjoy only being in a football environment, but so far I really like it.