'It's a special feeling': Gass glad to be back with Eskimos

Edmonton Eskimos A.J. Gass, left, and Jason Maas celebrate after defeating the B.C. Lions in the CFL Western Final at B.C. Place in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 20, 2005. Postmedia, file

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A.J. Gass always had the pedal to the metal as an Edmonton Eskimos linebacker.

It’s how he earned four Canadian Football League all-star awards on the way to helping the club earn two Grey Cups over his 10-year career.

But it turns out he was in no hurry when it came to getting his coaching career started.

“I talked with Hugh Campbell after one of my knee surgeries and he said, ‘Coaching might be the way you want to go,’” said Gass, now back with his old club as its new special-teams co-ordinator. “I think of all the advice I turned down, that was probably the best because I won two championships after that and played another six seasons.

“So, just being around those type of coaches, the Don Matthews, the Tom Higgins, Rich Stubler — I could go on and on — Rick Campbell.

“Those guys have been very good mentors and guys to look up to as far as getting a career.”

And let’s not forget Eskimos current head coach Jason Maas, whom Gass played six seasons with out of the home locker room of Commonwealth Stadium from 2000-05, including those two Grey Cup years.

“It’s phenomenal. When I think about coming up and coaching and being around a group, I think there’s no other guy that I’d like to follow except Jason,” Gass said. “He coaches the way he played and it’s a fun thing to be around.”

The same is true for the backdrop of the only city he suited up for as a CFL player.

“It’s a special feeling. The years and the aches and pains and the highs and lows on this field have just been tremendous,” said Gass, who spent 2008 as a defensive assistant with the Eskimos after hanging up his cleats. “So to be able to come out and share that same time with all these guys and players who are going through those same things, it’s extremely special.”


The Eskimos are hitting the meat of training camp Wednesday, when they will hold their first two-a-day session on the field, which will include a rare portion in pads.

“We don’t expect the tempo to change whatsoever, it’s just the physicality of practice changes,” Maas said. “Being a pro and understanding what that means, you’re not going off and trying to kill somebody. You’re going out there to get a rep in, not taking cheap shots. You’re playing as physically aggressive to the whistle as you possibly can.

“All it does is ups the physicality in our practice, but the tempo and what we expect out of our guys finishing to the ball? None of that changes. The expectation is our guys will still be able to execute, it’s just going to be a way more physical practice than what you’ve seen so far.”

Two years ago, the CFL got rid of padded practices during the regular season. Previously, teams could hold a total of 17 padded practices following training camp, which has now become the only opportunity for coaches to evaluate players in full regalia.


The Eskimos offence wasn’t looking to come into training camp with Trevor Harris expecting to pick up where they left off last year, leading the league with Mike Reilly.

But the progression is certainly beginning.

“It’s just getting comfortable with the system, knowing the splits, knowing the depths, knowing the timing, the cadences and all those sorts of things,” Harris said. “Obviously, we’re not where we want to be right now and some of the veterans will tell you as you go on, you start to realize you’re not going to hit the ground and be perfect on Day 1.

“And if you are, then that’s a shame because your best days are behind you.”

Harris & Co. are happy to go through the pre-season’s grace period of two exhibition games as they continue to acquaint, reacquaint or just generally familiarize themselves with the rest of the roster, the systems and coaching staff following an off-season of overhaul.

“We want to make sure that we take every day and improve and keep working to be the team we want to be, because I really believe if we maximize our ceiling and lean on each other, grow together, the sky’s the limit for this team.”

In and out: LB Don Unamba was back practising after not participating in Monday’s drills … Newly re-signed PR/KR Martese Jackson will be back in his No. 30, but wasn’t yet in attendance at Tuesday’s practice following the announcement of his re-signing.

Email: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge