June 13, 2018

Ready To Go: No shortage of motivation for Mitchell, Stamps

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

“The shoulder is as healthy as can be right now. I’ll be honest: I was worried there for a little while, so to be able to get out there and rip the ball full speed, throw full distance and not feel any pain is definitely a sigh of relief.”

– Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell

otivation was never going to be an issue for Bo Levi Mitchell this season. A second consecutive Grey Cup heartbreak mixed with his frustrating individual results in 2017 was more than enough to fill his quota. But the Calgary Stampeders quarterback is coming off an extremely eventful off-season that has him feeling better than ever, both physically and mentally. If you’re a Stamps fan, that news has to sound like music to your ears.

Sure, Mitchell is coming off a down year by his standards. But let’s also not forget that a “rough” year for Mitchell is still pretty good. 2017 still saw Mitchell finish third overall in passing yards with 4,700 while starting 17 games for a third straight season. Yes, his touchdown tally (23) was down a bit, as was his completion percentage (63.9%), but he still put together a pretty solid campaign when compared to the rest of the league.

Perhaps Mitchell’s 2017 season felt underwhelming because it came immediately after his 2016 Most Outstanding Player performance. Or perhaps the guy has just set the bar really high and it’s noticeable when he falls a little bit short. Regardless of how we perceived last year, there’s one thing you can’t argue: Mitchell had to play through two limiting injuries last season. Those ailments are now completely behind him.

Mitchell dealt with a shoulder injury all season long. It affected his arm strength, his distance, and his accuracy. While Mitchell would never fall back on an injury as an excuse, I think we all know it hampered him in a noticeable way throughout the season. That won’t be an issue in 2018.

Bo Levi Mitchell says he's healthy and ready to hit the field with his team this season (The Canadian Press)

“The shoulder is as healthy as can be right now,” Mitchell told me a couple of weeks prior to training camp. “I’ll be honest: I was worried there for a little while, so to be able to get out there and rip the ball full speed, throw full distance and not feel any pain is definitely a sigh of relief.”

With his shoulder back at 100 per cent, Mitchell is already ahead of the game from where he was one year ago. But that’s not the only injury he’s gotten on top of.

“I tore my knee very slightly about two years ago and last year really hindered running in the off-season,” Mitchell told me a couple of weeks before training camp started. “I think anybody that exercises knows that not being able to do a full body, kind of cardio workout can really allow the pounds to add on.

“This year I really got to cut it down. I’ve been out sprinting and doing miles and what not. I’m down about 16 or 17 pounds right now, depending on the day and what I’ve had the night before. (It) definitely feels good to be able to get out there and run, you know, full speed again for the first time in about a year and really be able to push it.”

A more svelte and more nimble Mitchell raised two questions in my mind. First, is that going to mess with his power or arm strength in any way? It’s a fair question to ask when a player makes significant changes to their body, but Mitchell isn’t worried about it one bit. In fact, the pendulum has swung the other way.

“This is as hard as I’ve thrown it here in a while and I’m pretty excited,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, the first thing you lose is your core, and when you lose your core you lose a lot of power. If you golf or if you swing a hockey stick, you know you’ve got to create that torque in that mid section in order to be able to get that extra miles per hour. (I focused on) my core, my lower back, and then obviously every little small muscle in the shoulder to add that velocity.”

The second question relates to Mitchell’s newfound mobility. 2017 saw him run for just 17 yards, which helped drop his QUAR rating a little lower than some of his contemporaries. With his knee healthy, will we see Mitchell integrate running into his arsenal a little more? While notoriously not a fan of the league’s new quarterback rating, he admits we’ll likely see a little more scampering in 2018.

A second consecutive Grey Cup loss is all the motivation Bo Levi Mitchell needs heading into the 2018 season (The Canadian Press)

“I’m sure Huf would like if my QUAR rating was higher, because that means I’m running 30 yards a game,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a big deal for quarterbacks in the CFL because it’s such a big field. Nowadays a lot of teams are trending towards dropping nine guys, running two-man, three double cut, whatever it might be. It’s a big deal for us to be able to take off and get even three, four, five yards on first down to create a manageable second down.”

Mitchell trained hard to clear his physical hurdles over the winter and spring, but he also paid more attention to the mental side of things. After being one of the most active and talked about CFL players on the social media front in recent years, Mitchell went dark.

Most significantly, he deleted his Twitter account where he had engaged with fans on a regular and entertaining basis. But Mitchell didn’t make this decision because he was having difficulty dealing with criticism from fans; it was about clearing the cobwebs and ridding himself of distractions. It was all about focusing on the things that matter most to him.

“Me and (my wife) Maddie both got off social media for a while to really rein our focus in on, you know, career and family,” Mitchell admitted. “It’s been a big deal for me…I feel like a better man, a better father.”

And this doesn’t seem temporary, either. Mitchell has liked the results so much it’s a pretty safe bet we’ve seen the last of him in 280-character form.

“I really can’t see it,” Mitchell said. “Just for how awesome its been since not having it. I think in the beginning I was kind of used to grabbing my phone and looking at it a lot. Now I grab it and there’s nothing really to look at, so I don’t pick up my phone as much. If you’re somebody who is on social media a lot, you’ll quickly find out it’s really nice not to be looking at your phone all day.”

Mitchell feels better physically than he has in years. He’s also in the best mental place he’s been in his CFL career. That’s nothing but good news for the Stampeders.