Khalif Mitchell, the hulking Toronto Argonauts defensive tackle, returns this week to the city where he made his football reputation, first, as an all-star and then as a volatile and violent erratic force.
Mitchell was an all-star in 2011, his first full year in the CFL, and helped the B.C. Lions win the Grey Cup. Last year, however, Mitchell struggled, getting suspended for two games for brutally yanking and hyperextending the arm of an Edmonton Eskimos player, and later fined for a throat-slashing gesture and again for a racial slur on Twitter.
So the Lions unloaded Mitchell to Toronto, where, initially, he declared he would not report before a quick change of mind.
On Thursday in Vancouver, Mitchell faces his old teammates. And while all involved are saying it is all ho-hum and nothing-to-see-here, Mitchell is fiercely passionate and, as a quick 6-foot-6, 315-pound tackle who often forced offensive lines to double-team him, he could well be a central factor on which the game pivots.
B.C.’s offensive line struggled last week in a 44-32 loss to the Calgary Stampeders, with sophomore guard Matt Norman playing his first regular-season game at centre and a rookie, Kirby Fabien, at right guard.
Mitchell’s absence from B.C.’s defensive line was also evident last week, as the Lions front four were easily moved aside to create huge holes for Calgary running back Jon Cornish.
“He can really disrupt a team offensively,” Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich said of Mitchell on Wednesday at a downtown Vancouver hotel.
As for the tone and temper his new lineman has brought to the defending Grey Cup champions, Milanovich said: “Truth is, he’s been a pleasure.”
Mitchell himself was in good, relaxed spirits. The 28-year-old has said he feels at peace, having left behind all the recent turmoil, “the trade, and the tweet, and the arm – all those things.”
“There’s no grudges, there’s no hard feelings, I don’t have any negative emotions,” said Mitchell, a character off the field, a self-taught pianist and eccentric thinker .
At B.C. Place Stadium earlier Wednesday, the Lions parried questions of the friend-turned-foe.
Running back Andrew Harris – who had tweeted “Good riddance!!!!” when Mitchell was traded – deflected a question, saying: “I’m more concerned about their linebackers.”
Then, there was quarterback Travis Lulay. “You know that he’s there but you can’t worry about any one individual.” And there is no animosity. “He’s a not a bad-hearted guy. He’s got a big heart.”
Of Mitchell’s colourful character, Lulay said: “He embraces it. He knows he thinks a lot differently than most people.”