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Linebacker Patrick Levels hopes to impart playoff wisdom on Alouettes

Last November, while Alouettes players went home for a fourth consecutive non-playoff season, Patrick Levels was winning a Grey Cup with Calgary after he and the Stampeders lost the championship game the year before.

The Als have only four players — John Bowman, Kristian Matte, Martin Bédard and the newly signed Gabriel Knapton — remaining from 2014, when the team reached the East Division final. In other words, Levels could be a calming influence and valuable resource as Montreal prepares for Sunday’s semifinal playoff game at home against Edmonton.

“It’s a new level you have to play at. It starts the first practice,” Levels said Thursday after the team practised outside with the first wet snow of the season falling. “We have to keep that intensity up. Nothing’s guaranteed anymore. We were guaranteed 18 games, barring injury. At this point, you lose and you go home. That’s it. You can’t get it back.

“The road’s up to you, how far you go and when it stops.”

When he was constructing this team over the last three years, it’s likely no coincidence former general manager Kavis Reed dipped into the Stamps’ player pool when signing free agents, including cornerback Tommie Campbell, linebacker Levels, defensive-back Ciante Evans and offensive-lineman Spencer Wilson. Calgary, arguably the Canadian Football League’s most successful franchise recently, went to three successive title games between 2016-18. Reed was seeking players who knew what it took to win and could change the dressing room atmosphere.

“We’ve faced adversity this season,” Levels said. “I think this team’s excited to be in this situation, because it’s been so long for some of the guys who have been here through the ups and downs. We’re going to have guys ready to play.

“Live in that moment,” added the 25-year-old Dallas native. “Don’t take anything else for granted besides that day and time. It’s memories in those games you’ll take with you forever. You don’t want that feeling to end on a bad note.”

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Levels signed a one-year contract with Montreal in February, not only for financial reasons but also because he believed the Als would provide him with a regular opportunity to play.

Levels was one of the Als’ most consistent defensive performers. He didn’t miss a game while producing 86 tackles, five sacks and forcing two fumbles. He proved to be a playmaker who seemed to be constantly around the ball. He believes he proved to himself he can make noise in any league and at any position.

“I had to come to what people called the sorriest team in the league, before today, just to get the opportunity to prove myself right,” said Levels, who played university football at Baylor. “I took a chance most people may have thought was crazy.

“I never look to be on the best team. You make the team what it is. I feel we’ve got a group of guys who just came together and collectively said we’re going to kick people’s ass, whether they like it or not.”

While the loquacious Levels will probably have plenty to say in the days leading up to the game — and likely on the field as well come Sunday — the introspective Evans said he instead hopes to set the tone with his play.

“It’s the playoffs. It’s important because it’s the next game,” said Evans, who spent four seasons with Calgary. “The intensity and focus … these guys are professional athletes, whether they’ve been to the playoffs or not. They understand the dedication it takes to get to this point.

“Guys who haven’t been here are (probably) more anxious and excited.”

Head coach Khari Jones said he’s had Bowman, in his 14th season with the Als, address the team frequently this season. While that trend will continue this week, Jones also said he’ll lean heavily on the Calgary contingent.

“I pick out different guys to speak, pick them out for different reasons,” Jones said. “It’s good to have guys who have played in these games … multiple times. Sometimes not even winning them. Losing and knowing the pitfalls of that. We’ll rely on a lot of people.”

Meanwhile, receiver DeVier Posey, injured the last two games, practised with the starting offence on Thursday. But his status against the Eskimos is far from certain.

Boundary corner Campbell, who also missed the final two games but practised Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and replaced by Jarnor Jones. Nonetheless, coach Jones expects him to play. And don’t be surprised if Knapton, signed to the practice roster Wednesday, is activated although he hasn’t played in a year.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

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Source: montrealgazette.com