Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will certainly be hitting the ground running to open the 2023 CFL season.
The 33-year-old Texan embarks on his first full season as Hamilton’s starter after spending the previous 10 campaigns with the Calgary Stampeders. But not only will the Ticats open with two road games but they’ll be against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Friday night) and Toronto Argonauts (June 18), the two teams that met in last year’s Grey Cup.
Mitchell, who won two Grey Cups and two CFL outstanding player awards during his time with Calgary, is good with opening his Ticats tenure facing last year’s league finalists.
“I think it’s good for all of us,” Mitchell said. “You want a challenge as a team, start off with the two teams that were in the Grey Cup in their house.
“You want to find out who you are as a team and we’ll find out pretty quick.”
Hamilton’s home opener will be June 23 versus the Montreal Alouettes, who defeated the Ticats 28-17 in last year’s East Division semifinal.
Mitchell joined Calgary in 2012 and became its starter in 2014, amassing a 90-25-2 regular-season record. He led the franchise to four Grey Cup berths (winning in 2014 and ‘18) while capturing the CFL’s top player award in 2016 and ‘18.
In January, the six-foot-two, 199-pound Mitchell signed a three-year deal with the Ticats, who had acquired his rights from the Stampeders after the 2022 campaign.
Hamilton is counting heavily upon Mitchell to continue his winning ways given the ‘23 Grey Cup game will be played Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field. The Ticats haven’t won a CFL title since 1999 but Orlondo Steinauer, the club’s head coach and president of football operations, said the organization hasn’t place any expectations on Mitchell.
“He’s Bo, that’s what I appreciate,” Steinauer said. “I’ve just enjoyed watching it unfold versus having these expectations for him.
“I just want him to be himself. Now, I’m learning a lot more about him and it just comes naturally.”
It was a tale of two seasons in 2022 for Hamilton (8-10). The club ended the regular campaign with four straight wins to clinch the third and final East Division playoff spot before its loss in Montreal.
That marked Steinauer’s first losing campaign since taking over head-coaching duties in 2019. Steinauer enters the 2023 campaign with a solid 31-19 overall record with the franchise and was a defensive back with Hamilton the last time the franchise won the Grey Cup.
Veteran Matt Shiltz returns for a second season as Hamilton’s backup.
Mitchell won’t be the lone new face on Hamilton’s offence. The club added Joel Figueroa, a towering six-foot-six, 320-pound offensive tackle (last year with B.C.), running back James Butler (1,060 rushing yards last year with the Lions) and Duke Williams, a six foot three, 225-pound veteran receiver, in free agency.
It will be a new-look Hamilton defence, also.
The Ticats continued revamping their front seven Monday, acquiring Canadian defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo from B.C. During the offseason, Hamilton acquired veteran defensive linemen Casey Sayles (free agent, Winnipeg), Ja’Gared Davis (free agent, Toronto) and Canadian Kwaku Boateng (free agent, Ottawa), linebackers Jameer Thurman (free agent, Calgary) and Chris Edwards (free agent, Toronto).
Veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence (11th CFL season, 10th with Hamilton) and Canadian defensive lineman Ted Laurent (12th CFL season, ninth with the Ticats) are the unit’s two longest-serving players. Canadian safety Tunde Adeleke and defensive back Richard Leonard both return to the secondary.
American kicker Seth Small returns for a second season with Hamilton. Small, who missed all of training camp while being placed on the suspended list, made 39-of-43 field goals (90.7 per cent) last season while hitting on 26-of-27 converts.
Australian Bailey Flint will handle punting duties while sophomore Lawrence Woods III returns as a threat on both punt and kickoff returns.
After roughly three weeks of training camp, Mitchell, for one, is ready to get the season going.
“I love training camp from the sense that being with a new team you get to learn new things and learn each other,” he said. “But you play football to play the game.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press