Gass set to start

Even though A.J. Gass hasn't participated in a single practice this spring, the Sun has learned...

Even though A.J. Gass hasn't participated in a single practice this spring, the Sun has learned that he will play at middle linebacker this evening against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders. (Edmonton Sun File/Perry Mah)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Up until yesterday morning, linebacker A.J. Gass didn't know if he would play for the Edmonton Eskimos this season.

While dealing with the death of his mother in Tennessee this spring, the defensive leader of the Green and Gold contemplated missing the entire year.

"It is such a tough situation, leaving my family so far away," said Gass.

"My sister is a single mom raising two kids and my mom was kind of her go-to (person for help)."

But at the urging of his father, Gass has returned to Edmonton - and that desire to play returned the moment he walked into the Commonwealth Stadium dressing room yesterday morning.

In fact, he immediately asked Danny Maciocia if he could play in this evening's final pre-season game - and the head coach is going to let him.

NOT AUTOMATIC

Even though Gass hasn't participated in a single practice this spring, the Sun has learned that he will play at middle linebacker this evening against the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"He needs to see some game action because if he doesn't see it (tonight), he won't see any until the season starts," said Maciocia. "He is ready physically and I think mentally; it will do him a world of good to get back into it. It will get his mind off things."

Maciocia isn't automatically handing the starting middle linebacker job for the regular-season opener in Calgary next Saturday to Gass.

With sophomore Quincy Stewart having taken reps while Gass missed all of training camp, the Green and Gold have more than one option.

But a nine-year veteran and an undisputed captain, Gass is the best option if he's completely ready next week - which explains the urgency to get the heart and soul of the Eskimos' top-ranked defence as many reps as possible tonight.

However, there will be a piece of Gass's heart missing when he's greeted with a warm ovation at Commonwealth Stadium. Needless to say, losing his mother Cathy to a heart defect has been shocking and traumatic.

"She was a wonderful woman, who - as far as my football career goes - was my biggest fan and biggest supporter," said Gass.

"Up to high school she had never missed a game or practice. And she watched or listened to every game up here on the TV or radio. It was so sudden and she was so young."

JUST STARTED MEDICATION

Cathy was 54 years old when she was buried last month.

"(The heart defect) was diagnosed just a week or two prior (to her death)," continued Gass.

"She had just started the medication.

"But it probably didn't have time to work."

However, Gass is extremely grateful for the way Maciocia and the rest of the Eskimo organization handled his family crisis.

Instead of forcing Gass to report to camp on time on May 20 or making him return at another specified date, the club gave him all the time and space he needed.

"I couldn't ask for more support or understanding from the organization," said the 30-year-old import.

"To know that when I was down there (in the U.S.) dealing with the (death), I didn't have to be concerned with things up here right away, was a big help to me."


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