‘Never stop learning’: Ticats’ QB Bo Levi Mitchell looks to Ricky Ray for path to success in new uniform

Graphic courtesy: 3DownNation (Photos: Hamilton Tiger-Cats | Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com)

For the first time in over a decade, Bo Levi Mitchell is the new kid in training camp.

After putting together a Hall of Fame resume in 10 seasons with the Calgary Stampeders, the 33-year-old pivot is now the face of the franchise for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. While making the transition, Mitchell is leaning on the wisdom of another legendary quarterback who successfully jumped from Alberta to southern Ontario.

“I heard Ricky Ray talk about it when he went to Toronto, just never stop learning,” Mitchell said in an interview with TSN’s Matthew Scianitti. “I think that was a big thing for me, not coming here and telling (offensive coordinator) Tommy Condell, ‘Well, this is how I do things, this is how I want to do things’ but him allowing me to help with the offence and then have the ability to continue to learn from him.”

Ray was also 33 when he was traded from Edmonton to Toronto ahead of the 2012 season, having already won two Grey Cups and set his former franchise’s all-time passing record just like Mitchell. He translated the move into seven more productive seasons and two more championships with the Argonauts, earning induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2022.

Mitchell is angling to replicate that success in the same stadium where Ray’s bust is now housed, with high hopes that the parallels won’t end there. The Argonauts captured a Grey Cup victory at home in their first season after acquiring their legendary signal caller; Hamilton is slated to host the 110th Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field this November.

Ticats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer was a member of that victorious Argos coaching staff, but his then boss — former Toronto head coach and noted quarterback guru Scott Milanovich — was recently hired by Hamilton as a senior assistant. Mitchell has made sure to routinely pick his brain about Ray’s transition.

“Learning from him about what he dealt with with Ricky and how Ricky would do things was a big one,” the veteran said. “I just want to keep soaking things in and keep trying to get better.”

Fortunately for Mitchell, it isn’t his first time breaking into a new locker room as the anointed starter. In college, the Katy, Tex. native transferred from Southern Methodist University to Eastern Washington as a junior and learned the right way to manage this transition.

“Not coming in and acting like you’re the guy, but acting like yourself. I think that was something that my old o-line coach reiterated to me after my first year there,” Mitchell recalled.

“He was like, ‘Man, I can tell you weren’t coming in here to be Matt Nichols’ — because that was the quarterback before me. ‘You weren’t coming here to be anybody else, you came here and you were you no matter what and that’s what I love about you. You were the same guy from day one to the end of year one.’ I think going through that transition helped kind of teach me what to do here.”

Mitchell was a two-time FCS All-American, a Walter Payton Award winner, and a FCS national champion after his move to the Eagles. Authenticity was key to that immediate success but it is even more critical now given his established reputation with the players in Hamilton’s locker room.

“Some of these guys are my former teammates; Tunde (Adeleke), (Ja’Gared Davis), guys like that,” Mitchell explained. “They all know who I am, so if I come in and act like somebody different, try to pretend to be somebody different, it comes off as inauthentic and these guys know right away.”

To that end, Mitchell is focused on enjoying the process and having fun in training camp. Following Ray’s words of advice, he’s focused on learning from Condell and the rest of the Ticats coaching staff.

“He’s had some great quarterbacks and this team has had some great quarterbacks in the past and there’s a reason for that,” Mitchell stressed. “I think for me, it was just come out here and learn something new, learn something different, learn from the defensive coaches we have. It’s a couple of different, extra minds to work with.”

The Ticats are scheduled to kick off the preseason on Saturday, May 27 at 4:00 p.m. EDT against the Toronto Argonauts. Mitchell is not expected to see much action in the first contest.