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Laurent Duvernay-Tardif wished he could have returned to NFL earlier this season

In a new interview, Kansas City’s right guard says he’s missed playing in 2020 — and is staying in shape to return.

NFL: JAN 19 AFC Championship - Titans at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a Thursday interview with the Toronto Sun’s John Kryk, Kansas City Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — who was the first NFL player to exercise his option to opt out of the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic — said that he watches Chiefs games like any other nervous fan. And he’s a little anxious about Sunday’s Divisional round matchup against the Cleveland Browns.

“The second half of the season has been so stressful. I feel like they started so well — powerful offence — but for the last few weeks they’ve been winning, but differently than we got used to, or at least what I expect. I’m a little anxious for Sunday because the Browns played pretty well against the Steelers, and in playoff football you cannot make mistakes. Turnovers are super crucial. I feel like we’ve got to come together on the details, so we don’t make mistakes that could cost us a game.”

Duvernay-Tardif — who has earned a medical degree while playing in the NFL — received kudos from many fans for choosing to care for patients during the pandemic. But he told Kryk that he has missed the game more than he imagined he would.

“I miss it. I miss the games. I miss playing in front of, like, 80,000 people — but nobody is playing in front of 80,000 people this year. That actually helped me cope with it a little better. Playoffs are amazing. I’ve been waking up every day the past few weeks going, ‘OK it’s Tuesday. Are they going to practise? Will Thursday be a full-padded practice? How will they manage?’ I’m just asking myself all these questions.”

Earlier in the season — when his team was struggling with injuries on the offensive line — Duvernay-Tardif said he even went on a flight of fancy.

“Yeah, in the first week or two of the season, Kelechi Osemele — the guard they signed right after I opted out — injured himself pretty badly. My first thought went from, ‘That could have been me’ to ‘What are they going to do now?’ And then Mitchell Schwartz went down … And I was like, ‘I would pay a lot of money for a flight to Kansas City, get tested, and parachute onto the field — and contribute.’ But this opt-out is irrevocable … There have been some tough moments for sure.”

There has been plenty of speculation that the NFL’s only active player with a medical degree might choose not to play the final two years of his Chiefs contract. But in his exchange with Kryk, he sounded like he fully intends to return next season.

“I’m staying in the best shape I can be right now. I have a gym set up on my roof. I’m trying to use this year off to show up in spring mini-camp, or whatever we can show up in Kansas City for, and be in the best shape possible. I feel like I’m on my way to be stronger. I don’t know about quicker, because it’s harder to run here. But I feel like I can be stronger than I was last year on the same date. I feel that’s a positive for me. And then after that I feel like it is going to come down to fighting for a spot. It’s a competitive league, and I think I’m going to have to go out there and battle. That’s my mindset. Same with after my big injury in 2018. Everybody I know was like, ‘Oh, you’re going back.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m going back to earn back my spot, because it’s a business and nothing’s guaranteed. If things don’t go the way I want, it’s not going to be because I wasn’t in good shape.’ That’s my mindset. That’s all I focus on.”

In the full interview, he talks more about the Chiefs — and the work he’s doing for a long-term care facility in Montreal during the pandemic. It’s well worth your time.

Check it out here.