Sometimes during a game, when his eyes glow with rage and his nostrils flare like a bull ready to charge, it's easy to believe Khalif Mitchell is a grenade ready to explode at any minute.
The BC Lions' defensive tackle gained national attention earlier this season for violently hyper-extending the arm of Edmonton Eskimos' offensive lineman Simeon Rottier. It was an act that earned Mitchell a deserved two-game suspension.
Mitchell made news again this week for the wrong reasons. The CFL fined him an unspecified amount for making multiple throat-slashing gestures during the Lions' 19-18 win over Edmonton last weekend. His actions were childish and totally unnecessary.
|Teammates OK with Mitchell|
- Keron Williams
"Khalif is Khalif, plain and simple. He does what he does He's not a distraction to me.''
- Geroy Simon
"It sounds really cliché but (a team) is just like a family. Everyone has a different personality. You learn to react differently to different people.
- Travis Lulay
On the field the 26-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., laps up the violence of a football game like a thirsty man drinks water on a hot day. He enjoys it and makes no apologies for his pleasure. It's that attitude that helped make him a CFL All-Star last season.
"This is not a little kids' playland,'' Mitchell told reporters this week at the Lions' practice facility. "This is a grown man's game and it's very violent.
"The throat-slashing gesture, was that proper? No, but (not) anything that happens on a battlefield can be deemed proper.''
The picture Mitchell has helped paint of himself goes askew when you watch him hang around after a Lions' practice. He jokes with fans, signs autographs, makes the time to speak with a person in a wheelchair. It's then you sense the gentle spirit that lives inside the six-foot-five, 315-pound giant.
Mitchell is one of those people whose personality changes the minute he puts on a uniform. The smiling, soft-spoken man who taught himself to play the piano transforms into a snarling beast.
"He's very intelligent off the field,'' said Lions' defensive end Keron Williams.”Once he puts the pads on he definitely flips the switch to get into his zone.
"The thing about Khalif is everyone sees him and the antics he puts on the field. Part of his game is intimidation. I understand that. Does he go outside the guidelines? Sometimes, yes. That's his makeup and that's how he plays.''
A thigh injury is expected to keep Mitchell out of the lineup when the Lions play the Saskatchewan Roughriders Saturday at Mosaic Stadium. Rookie Jabar Westerman, who the Lions took second overall in this year's Canadian college draft, will start with Maurice Evans rotating in.
Mitchell isn't the lone eccentric personality in professional sports. He might not even be the most anomalous person on the Lions. The question for the BC coaching staff is when do Mitchell’s antics move from being flaky to becoming a distraction?
In the past the Lions haven't hesitated in shedding players whose conduct was judged detrimental to the team. That's why running back Jerome Messam was traded to Edmonton and defensive lineman Brandon Peguese was dealt to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Right now Mitchell's talent and skill outweighs his aberrations. He's part of the best defence in the CFL. His sack last week on Eskimo quarterback Steven Jyles was an example of his speed and strength.
"I don't have a problem with the way Khalif plays the game,'' said head coach Mike Benevides. "You look how physical he's played the last two weeks. You look how well he has played for us the last year and a bit.
"I have no issues with Khalif Mitchell as a person and not as a player. He is exactly what we need between the lines. Everything else, we have to minimize the distractions. There is no question about that and I have to make sure that gets done.''
You get the sense Mitchell's act might be getting a little old with some of his teammates. Television cameras showed him exchanging words with teammate Khreem Smith during last week's game.
The usually loquacious Geroy Simon selected his words carefully when asked about Mitchell.
"Khalif is Khalif, plain and simple,'' said the veteran slotback. "He does what he does.
"He's not a distraction to me.''
Quarterback Travis Lulay denied Mitchell is creating any friction in the dressing room.
"I don't sense that,'' Lulay said. "It sounds really cliché but (a team) is just like a family. Everyone has a different personality. You learn to react differently to different people.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|