Bo Levi Mitchell has been one of the most durable players throughout his illustrious CFL career, so an injury layoff was tough on the Calgary Stampeders quarterback.
It’s finally over.
Mitchell, who fractured his fibula in the season opener on Aug. 8, was listed as the starter on Calgary’s depth chart for Saturday’s Labour Day rematch against the Elks in Edmonton.
“It’s frustrating because in the amount of time I’ve been in the CFL, I’ve never really missed games, I’ve been the guy who played 17 games and then I missed the 18th game to have some time off for playoffs, then go for a Grey Cup,” Mitchell said in a virtual media availability.
Mitchell suffered an arm injury in 2019 and worked hard through the league’s one-season COVID-19 hiatus to get healthy.
“So to come back and have something so silly as a broken leg off a kind of fluke play there, it’s incredibly frustrating, because I want to be there for my team and in this league. You’re only as good as your last year and the year you’re playing right now. So, for me, that’s not very good.”
The beleaguered Stampeders are 1-4 to start the season, and hope to even the score on Saturday in Edmonton after a 32-20 loss to the Elks (2-2) in Monday’s Labour Day Classic at McMahon Stadium.
Mitchell practised with the starters this week, and head coach Dave Dickenson said he would ensure the QB was at full health before inserting him in a game.
“He’s looked good,” Dickenson said. “We’ve just got to make sure that everyone’s confident that when he gets hit – because it’s not if he gets hit, it’s when – and gets knocked to the ground, that we feel confident his leg will survive it.”
Mitchell, a two-time CFL most outstanding player, played through the injury both in that Week 1 game against Toronto, and the entireWeek 2 game against the B.C. Lions before the fracture was diagnosed. Both outings were losses, marking the first time Mitchell had gone 0-2 to open a season.
“I put (Dickenson) in a bad position versus B.C.,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think he felt like he was able to call the game the way he wanted to, not being able to move around and almost trying to protect me. I’ve got to make sure that’s not the case (Saturday). And I told him that if I’m playing, you call anything, everything.
“I’ll be scrambling, I’ll be running around, I don’t care if I break my leg again. I’m ready to put it on the line for the team and do whatever it takes.”
The QB position hasn’t been the source of the Stampeders’ troubles. Rookie Jake Maier was excellent in place of Mitchell, throwing for more than 300 yards in each of his first three CFL starts.
The Elks know that Mitchell’s return could make for a tougher test on Saturday.
“We all know what Bo Levi is and what he can do. He’s one the best quarterbacks in the league, he’s proven that, has a track record of success, so I think we’ve got to be prepared for his best,” said Elks coach Jaime Elizondo. “We’ve just got to be prepared to handle him.
“There’s always the emotional uplift, any time that you’re struggling, you lose a couple games, when the guy that you’ve gone to battle with repeatedly comes back in, I think there’s always an uplifting on the team.”
Stampeders linebacker Jameer Thurman said the mood at practice has been `”frustration.”
“We should be (frustrated), we’re 1-4. I’ve never been in this position, (at least) in a very long time, especially not here in Calgary,” he said.
The Stampeders have struggled in first quarters this season, so it’s key, Thurman said, to start fast and keep that intensity for the entire game.
“I feel like we get lax, we get a couple of stops here and there and then `Oh, we’re good,’ we give up a little bit,” he said. “No, we have to be on point on every single play of the game. Guys need to step up, and I’m one of those guys. So, I am taking it personally right now that I have to figure it out myself. I have to make plays. And me making plays brings along the rest of the defensive guys.”
The Elks are 2-0 against West Division opponents this season, while the Stampeders are 0-3.
Edmonton has yet to win a game at home, however, and that’ll be a big motivator on Saturday.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” said quarterback Trevor Harris, the league’s leading passer this season. “It’s giving the fans what they deserve, which is a winning football team. And we want to make sure that we’re able to win at home and protecting our home-field advantage. It’ll be no easy task against Calgary. But it’ll be a fun game for the CFL fans to watch.”