Esks fillin' up on Gass

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

A.J. Gass has found the stability he's been looking for.

The Edmonton Eskimos' middle linebacker has signed a contract extension that will keep him in Green and Gold until at least 2006.

Gass's new one-year deal plus a club option for a second includes a long-overdue raise.

"Let's not get carried away," chuckled the 29-year-old after the deal was announced yesterday. "It was good for me and it's good for the team. It's exciting around here and I felt I needed to be part of it."

It's easy for the seven-year CFL veteran to laugh now. There's been plenty of times over the past three or four seasons when the Fresno State product could have just as easily sat down and cried.

He blew out his right knee midway through the '01 season, did the same to his left knee the following year, lost his starting job during the '03 training camp and opened last season on the practice roster.

Clearly, Gass doesn't know the meaning of quit.

"I take all the energy worrying about what I'm going to do or where I might be and put that toward how I'm going to get there," related Gass, who would like to play 10 CFL seasons before calling it a career.

WHEN IT REALLY COUNTS

"You can look at a guy and think you know him as a player. When you get on the field, that's when it really counts. It just comes down to how you play football on game day. That's when I'm at my best."

New deal aside, although Gass rates as the incumbent middle linebacker he knows there's no guarantees once camp opens.

"I'm going to get my opportunity in camp to come in and battle for a spot," said Gass. "It's been the same year in and year out and this year is going to be no different.

"My production last year was the best it has been in the previous six. I've improved every year and I feel good about going into this year."

Negotiations aimed at hammering out a new deal were just nicely underway in early March when rumours which had Gass headed to Ottawa via trade began to circulate.

WASN'T GOING ANYWHERE

"Worry crossed my mind right away," Gass said. "Then I went in and talked to them and they assured me I wasn't going anywhere. This new deal kind of solidifies that.

"If they were going to do it, it was out of my control so why would I worry about it? But we were already talking contract. It was just a matter of settling on the number."

Danny Maciocia came to Green and Gold from Montreal prior to the '02 season. The Esks' rookie head coach knows first-hand what kind of roller-coaster ride Gass has been on.

"A lot of other people would have said, 'To hell with it, I'm out of here' or just folded the tent," offered Maciocia.

"He's a different guy as far as that is concerned. It says a lot about the individual."

Despite the practice roster detour, Gass appeared in all 18 games for the Esks last season and led all special teamers with 16 tackles.

The six-foot-three, 205-pounder also racked up 65 defensive tackles, had one tackle for a loss, a pick and even chipped in with one kickoff return of 10 yards.

"He's playing middle linebacker and is probably undersized but he plays bigger than he actually is," Maciocia observed.

"That obviously rubs off a lot of the guys. In the locker-room he's pretty good as far as getting the guys going, whether it's before a game or a half-time. He brings a lot of positives to the team."


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