Photo by Dominick Gravel / Montreal Alouettes
By: Brandon Maki
The road that has brought Patrick Levels to the Ottawa REDBLACKS has been a winding one.
After four CFL seasons, with two different teams, a pair of Grey Cup appearances, and a championship victory, the 27 year-old defensive back explains that his every decision is made with the goal of growth, in mind.
“It’s a journey,” said Levels. “I embrace change more than I get nervous, or shy away from it. If you just stay in one area your whole life, you never get different experiences.”
Adjustment to new surroundings may come easy for Levels now, but the Dallas, Texas native didn’t get to this point without more than his fair share of practical experience. An upbringing that saw him and his family move around quite a bit, despite their best efforts, exposed Levels to a variety of different settings, people, and circumstances: all things that prepared him for an eventual move north of the border, to pursue his football dreams.
Photo by Peter McCabe / CFL CP Images
It’s those experiences that carry Levels into Ottawa, having spent the last two seasons with the rival Montreal Alouettes, and downing the REDBLACKS in the 106th Grey Cup as a member of the Calgary Stampeders in 2018. Despite some heated battles after the past number of seasons, don’t anticipate any friction between the brash defender, and his new teammates.
“I feel like I’m a people person, so when I get in a locker room, I kind of just find a way to get to know people,” he said. “Everybody’s personality is going to be different. I’m just adaptable when it comes to change.”
Whereas one may think that Levels’ hard-hitting style of play, and outspoken personality would have him and the REDBLACKS mix like oil and water, the Baylor product actually points to the clashes over the years as fostering what became a mutual respect between himself, the Ottawa coaching staff, and the players he went up against.
This was, of course, compounded by a major organizational reversal by the REDBLACKS during the 2021-22 offseason. New general manager Shawn Burke was no stranger to Levels, going back to the former’s days with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, so when Ottawa began attracting marquee free agents — punctuated by star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli — Levels found himself faced with a unique opportunity.
Not just an opportunity to join a promising team, but to help build a winner from the ground up.
Photo by Geoff Robbins / CFL CP Images
“I love being on a team that wins, but I want to help build something.” Levels said. “It’s not about coming to a team that’s already got championships, it’s about going to a team and being whatever type of leader, whatever type of player, whatever type of person that helps them execute, to become better.”
It’s a different sort of experience that Levels brings to the REDBLACKS, as well. While Ottawa has a handful of players on their roster who have won the Grey Cup in the past, the majority of the team is still chasing that elusive first ring. Especially for the young core that has been around for the past two seasons, Levels knows his championship pedigree makes him a valuable resource for his teammates who have yet to earn their first taste of true success.
He points to discipline as one of the most critical factors in determining whether a team lifts the Cup at the end of a season, or hangs their heads.
“You can go out there, and you can have great players, but if you’re jumping offside, getting holding calls, pass interference, and things like that, it puts you behind the sticks,” said Levels.
“It’s a one-game season, every game until you get to the Grey Cup, and then you’ve got to leave it all on the field, at that point. But it’s the process, and I just tell [teammates] it’s the little things. It’s not the big things that get you beat. It’s the little things, the little techniques, the little reads, the little details.”
Discipline, in particular, is something that Levels keeps in mind every moment that he’s on the field. While he admits to having something of a laid-back personality off the field, a different animal comes out when between the white lines. Levels is constantly in the faces of his opponents, be it through physicality or trash talk, but is sure to not let it negatively impact his team.
“I play tough. but at the same time, I’m not a tough guy after the whistle. I’m going to talk trash to you, but as far as getting me out of my game, and making me throw a punch, or making me get a 15-yard penalty, that’s not what we’re going to do. Those teams are going to be the teams who will elevate: the teams who have composure.”
Photo by John Woods / CFL CP Images
Of course, Levels brings more than just personality to Ottawa. Four CFL seasons split between Calgary and Montreal have seen him appear in 55 games, recording 178 total tackles, eight sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and a touchdown. Be it at linebacker, or defensive back, Levels know how to make an impact on the field.
Coming to a defensive unit that boasts returning stars in names like Avery Williams, Abdul Kanneh, and Sherrod Baltimore, as well as newcomers in Kwaku Boateng, and Monshadrik “Money” Hunter, Levels wants RNation to know that this mix of experience, attitude, and physicality, under the leadership of defensive coordinator Mike Benevides is going to yield some exciting football at TD Place, in 2022.
“Make sure you get a seat,” he said. “Get some popcorn and a drink, and enjoy the show. We’re going to do something special.”