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Calgary Stampeders star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is no stranger to dealing with nagging injuries, but he had always found a way to be ready come game day.
Heading into the 2019 season, the 30-year-old had missed just one regular-season contest since entering the Canadian Football League back in 2012.
So the 2018 Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup MVP was in uncharted territory when he was placed on the six-game injured list following the team’s Week 3 contest against BC.
Mitchell played the majority of the game. The non-contact injury happened with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. With Calgary trying to mount a comeback, backup Nick Arbuckle helped lead the Stamps to a 36-32 victory, capped off by a go-ahead touchdown pass to Eric Rogers with 42 seconds remaining.
Following the game, Mitchell was placed on injured list after suffering a pectoral injury. On top of trying to get back onto the field as quickly as humanly possible, the time spent on the sidelines made him reflect.
“I really have a lot more respect now for the guys who have spent time on (the injured list),” Mitchell said. “During the season, you have such a singular focus on the next game or the next day of practice and making better progress for your next game.
“I think the one thing that gets lost on us is the teammates that are going through some things. The things that run through your mind after a major injury, it’s devastating. It’s something that every athlete goes through at some point in their career. I avoided it for a long time but it just made me think about how I treated those guys. Did I ignore them? Did I listen to them or was I just focused on my own personal responsibilities?”
Arbuckle was the man in charge while Mitchell recovered, and he helped steer the team to a positive record during a tough middle portion of the year. The 26-year-old went 4-3 as a starter while putting up solid numbers through the air.
While he was proving himself on the field, Mitchell continued his process of getting back to full health. He started throwing more and more as the weeks went on and he looked to be returning back to 100 percent.
Mitchell has set a goal for himself to return to the lineup in Week 11 against the Montreal Alouettes. However, a setback in the lead up led to another short stint on the injured list.
He was forced to miss the Montreal game but was set to make his return on Labour Day against the Edmonton Eskimos.
In his return game, Mitchell was able to outduel counterpart Trevor Harris, putting up 263 yards and a touchdown while completing 67 percent of his passes on the afternoon.
Following that game, Mitchell would continue to round back into his regular dominant form, and the Stampeders began railing off victories. They’d win seven of their final nine games of the campaign, making a push to win the West Division title. But they came up just short, as Saskatchewan was able to clinch the top seed in the final week of the regular season.
Despite that, the Stamps hosted the Western Semi-Final against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with a chance to make a run at another Grey Cup appearance. The team did come up short, losing to the Bombers on home field.
While he was held to just 11 games in 2019 — the lowest of his career — Mitchell finished the year with and impressive 3,464 yards and 19 touchdown passes.
“When I came back, I think the very first game, there was a little bit of getting back into it. And after that for the next four or five weeks, I would say I played some of my best football,” Mitchell said. “But for me, it was the 50-50 and every day at practice not knowing if it was going to feel good.
“… It’s pretty mentally draining. Not knowing on game day or during a prctice whether or not you’ll be good enough to go out there and play.”
The off-season was busy for the quarterback as per usual. In order to be ready to go in time for the season, Mitchell underwent shoulder surgery in December to help clear him of any future issues.
He’s been working hard on his mechanics this off-season and has been throwing between 60 to 70 balls two days a week. Mitchell had started doing Mondays and Fridays in order to have a better recovery time. Now that he’s further along in the process, that has changed to Monday and Wednesday.
He estimates that if the season had been underway, he’d be fully ready to go for the Stampeders.
On top of his recovery, Mitchell also restructured his contract with Calgary ahead of free agency opening. He wanted to give the team some more breathing room to be able to keep some players on the roster while also allowing him to get surgery.
“My agent wasn’t the happiest person when I called him and told him it was something I wanted to do,” Mitchell said jokingly. “We have a very short lifespan as athletes and you want to get as muich money in your pocket as possible, but I’ve got different goals in mind as far as legacy and what I want to achieve in the CFL.
“I think that was something that helped along with that. It’s a team sport first and you come second. So making sure you help take care of the team, it’s always something that will give a positive attitude around the locker room.”
In preparation for a shortened season, Mitchell has returned to Calgary and had the chance to head to McMahon Stadium for the first time in 2020.
Stampeders players and personnel were allowed to return to the facility this week to work out in small groups. Alongside Mitchell, receivers Hergy Mayala and Andres Salgado were among the individuals in attendance at the stadium.
Among the new faces on the offensive side, Mitchell says that he’s especially excited to reunite with Marquay McDaniel. The former Stamps receiver returned to the organization as their new receivers coach for 2020.
With his shoulder getting back to where he feels it should be, Mitchell looks ready to help the Stamps light up the scoreboard with their bevvy of talented receivers and running options. The offensive line has been improved as well, meaning that one of the best pivots in the league should have even more time to get the ball off.
You can never sleep on Calgary, and with their star signal-caller back to full strength, they should be counted on to wreak havoc once again in 2020.