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Jets guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif assisted on the front line in early stages of COVID pandemic

New York Jets offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif speaks

New York Jets offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif speaks to reporters at the team's facility in Florham Park, N.J., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.  Credit: AP/Dennis Waszak Jr.

When most NFL players were getting ready for the 2020 season, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was preparing for something much bigger than football. He turned in his helmet, pads and uniform for a face shield, sanitary gloves and scrubs.

Duvernay-Tardif, the Jets’ starting right guard, was the first NFL player to opt out last season because of COVID-19. He wasn’t concerned about getting the coronavirus, though. He wanted to assist and care for those who did.

The 6-5, 320-pound Duvernay-Tardif has a medical doctorate from McGill University in Montreal. During the pandemic, he remained in his home province of Quebec and worked with patients at a long-term care facility.

Just months earlier, Duvernay-Tardif was the right guard on Kansas City’s Super Bowl- winning team, helping to protect Patrick Mahomes. Duvernay-Tardif gave that up to help people who really needed it.

"I felt like it was the best thing for me to go in the front line in any capacity possible," he said. "I was part of a movement of thousands of people that went back and helped, whether it was retired nurses or doctors.

"I think it gave me a different perspective on the medical system. Everything is so hierarchical normally. At a time of crisis, I feel like everybody coming together and working as a team was pretty amazing."

Duvernay-Tardif earned a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree at McGill, but he didn’t have his license to practice as a physician. He worked as a nurse/orderly in the facility.

The whole experience had a major effect on the 30-year-old.

"A big impact, that’s for sure," he said. "I think it changed my perspective both as a future physician but also as a football player. Realizing the opportunity we have to play ball for a living, I know I’m going to be evolving in the medical community for the next 40 years. But I think last year was special circumstances."

Duvernay-Tardif’s work back home was far more important than what he does on the football field, but he knew he wasn’t done with the game. He promised himself that he would return to the United States and continue his football career.

"It was not about the money, the legacy or whatever," Duvernay-Tardif said. "It was really about playing. It was a personal challenge that I set for myself. I’m going to take a year off but I’m going to work out by myself."

That’s just what Duvernay-Tardif did. Although the gyms were closed in Montreal, he created his own workout space on his balcony. He trained there for six months, whether it was warm or in the middle of winter

Duvernay-Tardif rejoined Kansas City this past spring for his sixth NFL season. He broke a bone in his hand in training camp, missed the preseason and wasn’t playing when he was healthy.

This was not how he envisioned his return would go. Then an opportunity to leave the team that drafted him in the sixth round in 2014 presented itself, and he welcomed it.

The Jets acquired him last month from Kansas City for tight end Daniel Brown. Duvernay-Tardif knew the Jets wanted him and would give him a chance to play, so he waived his no-trade clause.

"Being in Kansas City and feeling like I was not in control of my destiny is not something that I really appreciated," he said. "That’s why the whole trade situation happened. That’s why I’m here. I want to play ball. I want to contribute to the offense, the unit."

Duvernay-Tardif didn’t take that long to learn the Jets’ offense. He was able to quickly pick up the outside zone blocking scheme the Jets run and built chemistry with center Connor McGovern and right tackle Morgan Moses.

Duvernay-Tardif replaced Greg Van Roten as the starting right guard two games ago and helped the Jets rush for a season-high 157 yards last week in Houston. He will start his third straight game Sunday against Philadelphia.

"I thought he made a big jump like we were expecting," coach Robert Saleh said. "I still think he’s going to get even better. He hasn’t played in two years. His first game there [he had] a couple of plays that he wanted back. This last game, I thought he did a really nice job against a very active front. This week is probably the best D-line we’re going to be playing all year, so it’s going to be a great challenge."

Certainly not a bigger challenge than last year was for Duvernay-Tardif.

"Admirable for him to step away to fight a greater cause," Saleh said. "It takes a person of great confidence to be able to pass up playing in the league when you got such a short window anyway to do something that’s selfless."

Duvernay-Tardif said teammates talk to him all the time about being a doctor. They sometimes ask for medical advice. He joked that he stays away from giving second opinions because "I could get myself in trouble."

Some teammates have talked to Duvernay-Tardif about the COVID-19 vaccine. He believes everyone should be vaccinated but understands it’s a "personal decision."

Duvernay-Tardif enjoys the discussion and hearing all perspectives as he continues a journey and legacy that is bigger and more impactful than being an NFL lineman.

"Football is an amazing adventure," he said. "But it’s also, for me, a way to build a platform to promote a greater message, something that you believe in. For me it’s public health. It’s trying to do primary prevention with kids and so on.

"I hope what I did is going to follow me and be part of my legacy because I want to use it to try to have a great impact."

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