A DAD AND A FOOTBALL PLAYER: Ottawa Redblacks’ Patrick Levels motivated from a young age

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If Patrick Levels wasn’t enough as a teenager — surviving in a tough motivated Dallas neighborhood and trying to prove the doubters wrong — he got a wakeup call when he was 16; his girlfriend was pregnant.

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Becoming a father at 17 added focus to a young football player who was pursuing his dreams. Item also added purpose, a reason to push harder. And now, with so much life ahead of him — with so many chapters of his story from him still to be written – Levels, a defensive back / linebacker with the Ottawa Redblacks, is feeling blessed. Thankful for faith, family, friends and football. Along the way, Patrick Levels not only became a good football player, he became a good dad. His son of him — Jay’Lynn, who is now 10 — is living with him this summer.

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“Everybody has a story,” said Levels, who turned 28 three weeks ago. “It was rough at times. But I don’t regret anything that’s happened to me in life because it’s made me the grinder I am today. I’m the person who sees everything in a positive light because it was so negative at one point. I wake up every day with a positive mindset because I know it’s been worse and it could be worse.

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“When I found out I was going to have a son, it was before I had committed to any college. It became about more than just myself. When you have your own kid, and that person relies on you, it changes your perspective. It helped me grow up a bit faster than I would have. He was my first motivator. It really threw me into a new gear – that I had to be successful in something. My drive went from 100 to 200. I’m required to make sure he has a better life than I did; that was my whole focus at that time and still is today.”

Levels had helped take care of his little brother (Alonzo, who’s also staying with him this summer) and sister so he had plenty of experience in Daddy and Mommy stuff — changing diapers, warming up bottles of milk and putting kids to bed. Being a dad, though, is so much more than that. Levels learned. Day by day.

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“Whenever (my brother and sister) cried, I could hand them back to my mom,” he said. “But when he is yours, it’s your responsibility. It builds the unbreakable bond.”

While Levels lived in Oak Cliff, a lower-income neighborhood, his “Grammy” Julie lived in Pleasant Grove. Each morning, Levels and his mom Michelle would get up at 5 am, hop on a train and make the hour and a half commute to his grandmother’s from him so he could go to a “better” school.

“We lived in a bad place so they tried to get me to the best school possible — out of the area,” said Levels. “As a young kid, I was mentally mature. I saw things that were bad didn’t lead anyone to anything different. I didn’t need anybody to show me what was right, I just saw what was wrong. I wanted to make my grandma proud of all the sacrifices she made. I didn’t want to let anybody down. I was doing all the right things, I did everything the opposite of what my environment was. They called me the golden child — my grades were good, I didn’t miss school, I didn’t do anything to get in trouble, I stayed out of drugs and things like that, I didn’t get any tattoos. I just did things a lot differently because I wanted a different result.”

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A year after his son was born, Levels’ Grammy — his biggest supporter — died. It was a huge loss; she had been a huge inspiration, a shoulder to lean on and she had been the one stepping up to pay his football registration fees.

“Before every game, I pray to let her know I appreciate her getting me here,” said Levels.

The football field always brought comfort to Levels. He started playing when he was three. He wasn’t the biggest kid. He was tenacious; he had fire in his belly of him. From 2012-16, he was a key player at Baylor University. Honor Roll. All star. Total package.

“Football was something I fell in love with,” said Levels, who is listed as 5-foot-11, 187 lbs. “Nobody had to push me to want to do more. I was a smaller guy so I always had a chip on my shoulder. I’d hear it: ‘You’re too small, you’re too small.’ And I’d think, ‘OK, let me show you what a small guy can do.’ I was motivated to prove everybody wrong. That’s what got me to this point. You can’t judge heart. It doesn’t matter if you’re 6-foot-9, 350 pounds — if you don’t have a heart, you’re not going to make it. My work ethic got me past a lot of my size issues. I never take anything for granted. I don’t think I’m owed anything. Everything I do is appreciated. And everything I get is appreciated.”

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Again, the story comes back to Jay’Lynn and Levels’ four-year-old daughter Mila. Being a dad means the world to Levels; his heart of him is full.

“In college, my focus was trying to make it to the NFL and take care of my whole family,” he said. “I had my mom to support me, helping take care of my son. She was like, ‘Hey, if this is your dream, we’re all going to work together as a family to make sure you succeed. It’s the support I needed in order to keep going. And while I was there, there never any quit in me. I was like, ‘I have somebody who relies on me.’

Jay’Lynn is your typical 10-year-old. He likes action figures, WWE (especially Roman Reigns and The Usos). And while Levels likes the Dallas Cowboys, the Arizona Cardinals are his son’s team. He’s also a big fan of Levels’ Redblacks teammate Money Hunter (“he loves Money; he thinks Money is the greatest DB Since Deion Sanders.”) Every day, Levels and Jay’Lynn toss a football around. Bonding. Father and son stuff.

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The son is on his dad to get better, to work harder.

“He’s my biggest critic,” said Levels with a laugh. “When I get home, he’s like, ‘You missed that’ or ‘Why didn’t you knock the ball out of that guy’s hand?’ It’s constructive criticism and it’s coming from a genuine place. He’s rooting for me; I know he just wants to see me be the best. He definitely makes it easier. I get to come home and see my son there – it makes me happy.”

Levels started his CFL career in Calgary in 2017, spending two seasons as a Stampeder. After two years with the Montreal Alouettes (he had signed to play in Hamilton in the canceled 2020 season), he joined the Redblacks as a free agent. He knows he’s judged each play, each game and each year. So he wants to keep on top of his game. In 2019, he had 86 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles. As a Redblack, he’s got 19 tackles and a sack in five games.

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“Football is the priority for me right now, it’s 110 per cent what’s on my mind,” he said. “But when the off-season comes, it’s family first. The love for both is there. I call my family, talk to them, let them know I’m doing okay. But as far as being on the phone every day, I can’t do that because I have to be in my playbook and studying with the guys, trying to develop chemistry here.”

Each day is a learning experience — as a football player, as a person, as a son and as a dad. Levels navigates his way through his journey, trying to do the right things, knowing his decisions impact others.

“You have things that come up and choices to make,” he said. “Life can change at any point and I never take anything for granted. I’ve learned when it comes to kids, it’s not about the money you spend, it’s about the time you spend. I think I’m doing good, but at the same time, I always want to get better. I want to give (Jay’Lynn) an opportunity to just be a kid — something I didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to do.

“Having a kid when you’re young changes you. But it was a blessing in disguise for me. There are dark days where I just think about my kids and it pushes that drive in me. I’ve heard the negativity, people saying I was going to be a statistic, that good football players always fall off the side. But opinions aren’t facts. And that’s what I live by.”

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