Fierce hitter retires

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

In an upcoming crucial year for the Edmonton Eskimos, the club will have to find a new middle linebacker and defensive leader.

A.J. Gass has retired from the Green and Gold after 10 seasons to take a job as a defensive assistant coach with the organization.

"My decision to retire now and take the opportunity that I have (to coach) is going to benefit me down the road - tenfold," said Gass.

"It was tough letting something go like playing, but thinking about my future, it is the best thing for me."

But that doesn't mean it is going to be easy to report to Day 1 of training camp this spring in a ball hat and golf shirt instead of shoulder pads and a helmet.

"I am pretty sure it is going to hurt real bad," continued the 32-year-old California native.

It can be argued, though, that the defence will face an even bigger transition because Gass has been the heart-and-soul of that unit for years.

"His leadership kept the defence together," said SAM linebacker Shannon Garrett.

Added linebacker coach Dan Kepley: "With his experience and his knowledge and his control of the field, (Gass) leaves a big void.

"A.J. was the full-meal deal.

"If he had three-quarters of a tank of gas, you got every ounce of it. He was not going to shortchange you at all.

"And pound for pound one of the hardest hitters I have ever seen.

"He wanted to strike fear in ball carriers and receivers.

"He wanted to make them remember a hit."

TAKING ITS TOLL

Unfortunately for Gass, his body is also remembering those hits.

While he could have returned for another season on the field if he wanted to, his body is beginning to show signs of deterioration.

The aches and pains are there when he goes up stairs or tries to shovel snow.

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs could have helped him through another year on the Commonwealth Stadium grass, but he is already facing knee replacement surgery down the road.

"I would definitely gut-out another year if I didn't have the opportunity (to coach), but there is no need to put myself through that type of abuse (now)," Gass said.

According to head coach Danny Maciocia, Gass will break down film and help with game planning in his first year on the coaching staff.

"There were times where he faced adversity as far as his position (on the field). Guys would beat him out for the first couple of weeks (at training camp) and then he would rebound and take it away from them," stated Maciocia. "And he will face adversity as a coach, (but) he is so well prepared for it that I think he is going to be quite successful."

BATTLED THROUGH IT ALL

Adversity could have become Gass's middle name during his decade with the Eskimos.

While he'll be remembered by his opponents as a player that walked the line between toughness and dirty play (reference: helmet toss last year), his teammates will remember him for coming back from several major surgeries.

In the span of 10 years he had five surgeries, including reconstruction of the ACL and MCL in both knees.

Given those stats, it's amazing he was able to post these career defensive numbers: in 131 Eskimo games he had 440 defensive tackles, 90 special teams tackles, 12 QB sacks, 10 fumble returns and two Grey Cup rings.


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