In the fourth quarter of the Calgary Stampeders’ Week 1 win over the Montreal Alouettes, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell came off the field limping.

The game was tied 27-27, and the veteran was unsure if he could move normally in the pocket. With the game on the line, he had an honest chat with head coach Dave Dickenson about his health. Ultimately, Dickenson inserted backup Jake Maier, who marched the Stampeders down the field before Rene Paredes hit the game-winning field goal.

Mitchell, who will start in Week 2 on Saturday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after recovering from what was described as a charley horse type of injury, readily admits that the decision to be fully transparent about his health in the middle of a game is not one he would have made in the past.

“That’s a tough one for me,” Mitchell said of the conversation with his head coach.

“QBs, we dream of always being there at the end to lead that drive. But I’ve tried to grow in my years and be mature and I just didn’t think I’d be able to push off and make a move if the pocket broke down. Watching Jake [Maier] on the one where he had to scramble out right and he found Richie [Sindani] there on the sidelines, I don’t know if I’d have been able to do that on that drive.”

It’s a departure from last season when Mitchell was in a similar situation. In Week 1, he was hit late by Toronto Argonauts defensive end Charleston Hughes. Mitchell broke his fibula but suited up the next game against the BC Lions before being placed on the six-game injured list.

“Dave [Dickenson] was handcuffed as far as plays he could call,” Mitchell said, of what happened last season. “He knew I was stuck in the pocket there and that was something I didn’t want. He even admitted it and kind of said, ‘Hey I can’t have you as a sitting duck, so tell me the truth and let me know [if you’re injured].’”

Had the coach known about the injury, Mitchell would not have dressed.

“You’ve got to be able to do the job and last year we didn’t even know he had that injury until after that game [versus the BC Lions] or I probably wouldn’t have played him,” Dickenson said.

This time around, Mitchell tested his leg before opening up to Dickenson about his limitations.

“I ran around the sidelines. It felt good enough running straight lines, but just pushing off sideways,” he said. “I was like, ‘Man I’m not going to lose us this game if I’m not able to get out and do the things I have to do.’ I’m glad I made the right decision.”

Mitchell’s willingness to pull himself from a game is the latest in his evolution as a leader. He came to Calgary as a free agent from Eastern Washington University, where he led the team to a come-from-behind 20-19 victory over the University of Delaware in the 2010 FCS Championship game. Despite not knowing the Canadian game well, he made his presence felt as the third-string quarterback.

“After we had our main meeting, Bo kept the practice [roster] guys on the side and went over our looks and what we should be thinking and how we should be running routes,” recalled wide receiver Kamar Jordan, who has been with the Stampeders since 2013. “And that was early on…I think Bo has always been that leader, always been somebody that wants to help the whole team get better.”

On July 20, 2013, Mitchell, then the third-string quarterback, was thrust into game action versus the Montreal Alouettes after injuries to starter Kevin Glenn and backup Drew Tate. Mitchell completed seven of 13 passes for two touchdowns as the Stampeders overcame a 24-point deficit. 

As the Stamps found great success with Mitchell under centre (two Grey Cups in four appearances, two Grey Cup MVPs, two CFL Most Outstanding Player awards), his approach to motivating himself and his teammates has evolved.

“If you’re just in this game to win, just to make money, you’re going to have probably not a long career but also not a satisfying career,” Mitchell said this week of how his leadership and motivation has changed over the years. 

Mitchell’s play has dipped a bit since 2018 in part due to injuries, and last season he led the league in interceptions. Now 32, the veteran pivot is using last year as fuel for what he and the team hope is a Grey Cup run.

“The majority of sports is failure. We get to win. We get to enjoy the successes, and we had a lot of success early on, myself as a starter,” Mitchell said. “But I haven’t played up to my standard the past couple of years. I’m not going to say I’m going to light the world on fire, but I’m definitely getting ready to come back here and remind everybody.”

Jordan has been with Mitchell for 10 years now and sees a confident quarterback who continues to push himself and teammates.

“Over time, it’s just about understanding who he is, what the team is and what this team can do,” Jorden said. “We’ve been through a lot of championships, won a lot of games, so he makes sure that’s the standard – regardless of [whether] it is younger guys, older guys, whoever is in that room. He wants to make sure these guys know that we’re playing championship football.”

Week 2 notes

- DB Jonathan Moxy will be out in Week 2, one of a few injuries on the Stampeders defence. Raheem Wilson has moved from safety to corner, and rookie Titus Wall, who started Week 1 at SAM linebacker alongside veterans Cameron Judge and Jameer Thurman, will play safety.

-With Cody Grace continuing to nurse a leg injury, punter Jimmy Smith will again go for the Stampeders. Smith had an impressive CFL debut in Week 1, and currently leads the league in punting yards average (51.3) and has had the longest punt of the season (72 yards).

-Look for the Stampeders to run at least one play with either Malik Henry or Shawn Bane in the back field. Both receivers are fast and can create space.