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Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman and Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., native Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is the first active NFL player to hold a medical degree.Ed Zurga/The Associated Press

It was the perfect season opener for Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

The 27-year-old offensive guard kicked off the 2018 NFL season by helping Kansas City earn a 38-28 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers, a team picked by many to supplant the Chiefs atop the AFC West. The native of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., also took to the field as the league’s first active player to hold a medical degree.

Duvernay-Tardif graduated from McGill University’s medical school in May, eight years after beginning his studies.

“Honestly, it was special,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “During the national anthem I was kind of like, ‘You know what? This is history right here, nobody has done it before.’

“I’ve been working eight years to complete my curriculum in medicine while also playing in the NFL. So many people told me I was going to have to choose at some point and to show them that I did it and still [performing] on the field is a great feeling. I’m proud of myself for that.”

Kansas City is on the road for a second straight week, visiting Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Chiefs defence likely won’t face Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who’s continuing his contract holdout, but stand-in back James Conner ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 21-21 overtime tie with Cleveland.

The 6-foot-5, 321-pound Duvernay-Tardif is in his fifth season with Kansas City, which selected him in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. Duvernay-Tardif became a starter in 2015, and in 2017 signed a five-year, US$42.25-million contract extension with the organization.

Kansas City has qualified for the NFL playoffs the past three years and twice finished first in the AFC West over that span. But the off-season trade of veteran quarterback Alex Smith to Washington and the promotion of sophomore Patrick Mahomes to the No. 1 job had many football pundits predicting the Chiefs would take a step back in 2018.

But Mahomes, a 2017 first-round pick, was named the AFC’s offensive player of the week after completing 15-of-27 passes for 256 yards and four TDs in Los Angeles.

“I think Pat did pretty well,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “We were able to give him decent protection, and when he has time, he can do some real damage.

“The coaches also did an awesome job putting together a game plan that really stretched the defence, but for sure Pat showed tremendous ability as well as leadership. To feel like he’s behind you and when it’s third and long he’s not stressing ... that’s a sign of maturity and that’s what you want in the quarterback.”

Mahomes certainly had help, as Tyreek Hill recorded seven catches for 169 yards and two TDs. Hill, nicknamed “Cheetah,” for his breakaway speed, also returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown.

“He’s so fast, it’s incredible,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “He’s a great player on our team and we want to exploit him as much as possible.”

By securing his medical degree while playing, Duvernay-Tardif has become one of the NFL’s feel-good stories this season. However, that’s also indirectly put added pressure on the former McGill star.

“In the NFL or any professional sport, it’s a great story when you’re playing well,” he said. “But if you don’t play well it becomes an issue, so I’ve got to make sure my level of play is still high this year.”

Two top individual achievements in the NFL are being named an All Pro or to play in the Pro Bowl. But Duvernay-Tardif isn’t concentrating on such accolades.

“The first goal is to win as many games as possible as a team and help the Chiefs go as far as we can this season,” he said. “If I can do that, I’m sure good things will happen.

“I want to try to be the best football player I can be and see how far I can go with it. If it’s an All Pro or Pro Bowl, I’ll take it for sure.”

Duvernay-Tardif is also playing the role of mentor this year, having taken Canadian rookie offensive lineman Ryan Hunter under his wing. Hunter, a native of North Bay, who played collegiately at Bowling Green, signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent and is currently on the Chiefs’ practice roster.

“We’re really close,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “He’s a great guy to work with and has tremendous potential.

“He was a little bummed to be on the practice squad, but I think that’s just a matter of time before we see him as a starter, whether it’s with Kansas City or another team.”

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