If you ever wanted to see how much playing football in Canada can change someone’s life, Bo Levi Mitchell is the most recent example.
The kid that grew up in Katy, TX. and played his college football at Eastern Washington University walked into his media session at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday with his eyes glued to his phone screen. The Calgary Stampeders’ starting quarterback wasn’t enthralled in U.S. college football, or the latest drama of the NFL. He was watching curling.
So the talk of a win-or-go-home football game that Stamps fans and oh, the entire province of Saskatchewan are fixated on waited a few seconds while Mitchell found a willing audience of likeminded stone-chucking enthusiasts to dish with.
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It was a quick reminder of just how far Mitchell has come in his nine seasons in the CFL.
Remember the young, brash QB that could shoot off at the mouth as readily as he could chuck a 50-yard TD pass? Those quote-happy days are mostly behind him, save for the odd Damian Lillard-like goodbye wave he threw to Edmonton fans in the Labour Day rematch this year.
Mitchell has grown up. He’s 31, married and the father of two. He’s a two-time MOP and a two-time Grey Cup champion. He’s also heading into the playoffs on the heels of the most challenging season of his career.
After going through the worst game of his CFL career in Week 2 — he threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in a loss to BC — he found out he’d been playing with a fracture in his leg. He missed three games and the Stamps fell to 2-5 at the midpoint of the season. It was a slow build when he came back, as he built chemistry with new, young receivers. The stats on his season look un-Bo-like: 2,594 yards with 10 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
Still, Mitchell and the Stamps pulled themselves out of what looked like a deep hole and here they are, in the postseason as winners of six of their final seven games.
“It’s hard to trash talk when you’ve had the season we’ve had,” Mitchell said.
“We’ve had a lot of players on this team before where we’ve got the best record in the league and everyone’s talking about MOP and Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Canadian, coach of the year…it’s hard not to hear all of that.
“I think it’s nicer in the locker room when you’re not hearing things. I think now that I’ve gotten to be on this side of it, it’s easier to come into a playoff football game knowing that people may be doubting you.”
While it’s the kind of journey you don’t want to go make as a pro athlete, there might not have been a better time for it to happen to Mitchell.
“I think I’ve dealt with it the same way I’ve dealt with fatherhood. Take the lumps, learn from all the failures and just try to get better,” he said.
The people closest to him on the field saw a veteran player work his way through some new, humbling territory.
“I saw a star, man. I saw Bo just really grasping adversity,” Stamps’ running back Ka’Deem Carey said.
Carey was impressed by how the Stamps pulled together when they were stuck at two wins. He said team meetings helped show each other people’s personalities and how they responded to a rare dip in the team’s longstanding winning tradition.
“Bo was one of them. The way he handled this full season, just kudos to that guy and the way that he’s led us thus far,” Carey said.
“As the face of this program and what he had to go through in the beginning of the season to now, man, and the way he blocked out the noise…I’m just proud of the way he did that. He’s a true leader, a true warrior. And I’m just happy he’s our leader.”
Dickenson said that the combination of recovering from the leg injury and getting to know new receivers took a lot of time for his star quarterback. After the four-interception game and a layoff from the injury, Dickenson saw Mitchell’s confidence take a hit.
“Bo was trying to get used to the receivers. Who’s a jump ball guy, who’s a quick twitch guy, who’s a big body guy that I know I can trust to put it there and at worst it’ll be an incompletion,” Dickenson said.
“I think I watched the 2018 Grey Cup and I think we were 80 per cent different. There was nobody there, basically. So I feel like Bo needed those reps in practice. He didn’t practice enough in training camp, he was bothered by a groin. I didn’t think he had enough reps. My advice was do it in practice, day-in and day-out. Get the reps, make it like a game and you’ll play better once it happens. He’s taken that to heart and he’s done a nice job.”
As much as Mitchell does grow up, some things that are beyond his control will never change. He’s played plenty of games at Mosaic Stadium over the years, but this is his first playoff date here. He knows what Sunday will sound like.
“I think when I enter this building, the Sask atmosphere is always the same,” he said. “The stadium is full and everybody here hates me.”
With that, he finished his press conference, checked the curling score and left the room.
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