CFL players finding different ways to deal with down time created by global pandemic

The lack of a 202 CFL season hasn't improved Bo Levi Mitchell's golf game or his prowess around the house, but it's allowed Cody Fajardo to work on his dance moves and Simoni Lawrence to bond more with his dog.

CFL players have had plenty of time on their hands this year after the league cancelled its plans in August for an abbreviated '20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, that's offered a chance to find seasonal work to make ends meet or get started on establishing a post-football career.

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But for Mitchell, the Calgary Stampeders' veteran quarterback, the time away from the field has allowed him to recover fully from off-season shoulder surgery. And he's also gained a real appreciation for those people who make their living with their hands.

"I went out and bought damn near every tool under the sun and started building shelves for the garage," Mitchell said this week during a Grey Cup Unite videoconference. "Just trying to find anything I could fix inside the house to the point where I started messing a couple things up."

Then came the realization one day that his drills had been taken.

"When my wife and I go out on a run in the morning, we leave our garage open and just kind of do a loop," Mitchell said. "We come back and my drills are gone and my wife said, 'Yeah, just go get some more.'

"I haven't yet so I don't know how much I actually like doing the hands-on work. As much fun as it is, it's been kind of cool to learn those things but I find out there's probably a couple of things I should rely on the help of actual professionals when it comes to that."

Mitchell, twice the CFL's outstanding player (2016, '18) and a two-time Grey Cup champion, is also an avid golfer. With no football, the league's all-decade (2010-19) first-team quarterback estimates he played upwards of 75 rounds this year.

"After 75 rounds I found out that I still can't putt," he said. "Seriously, I thought my golf game would (take off) and it's taken a lot longer than I thought it would.

"Everything else has come around except the putting, man. There's something special to knowing how to read a green."

Fajardo entered 2020 with plenty of optimism after helping guide the Saskatchewan Roughriders (13-5) to first the West Division last year. And to boot, the '20 Grey Cup game was scheduled to be held in Regina, giving the Riders to repeat history when in 2013 they won a CFL championship on home soil.

But with the cancellation of the season -- and Regina now hosting the 2022 Grey Cup -- Fajardo looked to training quarterbacks as a source of revenue while also coaching high-school football in Reno. And with his wife, Laura, pursing a master’s degree in physical therapy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., the 28-year-old Fajardo has been taking dance lessons.

"My wife has been away almost 22 weeks now finishing her schooling," he said. "So I'm trying to be a better dancer so I can make her proud on the dance floor."

And when he's not cutting a rug, Fajardo spends time playing video games.

"I bought this really cool arcade game that has over 300 arcade games on it," he said. "It has like '80s arcade games and so just kind of bringing you back . . .and trying to master my '80s arcade games."

Like Fajardo, Lawrence had big plans for 2020. Last year, Lawrence was the CFL's leading tackler and the East Division's top defensive player as Hamilton posted a league-best 15-3 record.

More importantly, though, Lawrence was looking forward to helping the Ticats avenge their 33-12 loss to Winnipeg in the 2019 Grey Cup.

"This is the first time I'm not playing football since I was nine years old so I was scrambling trying to figure things out," Lawrence said. "I figured out I'm OK around the house, I can do some manual labour (and) I never knew I could do stuff like that . . . but with YouTube I'm quick learner and it pretty much teaches you everything.

"My and my dog, we got a lot closer. I got to spend a lot of time with family that I've been missing."

Spending down time with the pooch is also something Fajardo can relate to.

"Just trying to keep this house standing while I'm here with the dog," he said. "Like Simoni said, me and my dog have got really close."

"Probably the hardest thing I could tell my wife like, 'Hey I'm going up (to Canada to play football) and she knows where I'm at. You can't tell your dog that you're leaving for six months. That's one of those things where you kind of enjoy the moments you have."

This season was to be Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Nick Arbuckle's first as a CFL starter. And while the 27-year-old continues to work out in preparation for the '21 campaign, much of his time is spent with his wife and three-month-old daughter in the Canadian capital.

"(We) try to go on at least one walk a day around the neighbourhood," Arbuckle said. "Our daughter is right on the verge of being able to crawl, she's like so close that every day I try to get on the ground and show her how to crawl.

"That's what I'm doing . . . just a bunch of family time and the little bit of a chance I get to work out each day."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2020.

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