After 10 seasons, two Grey Cups, and reconstructive surgery on both knees, Edmonton Eskimos linebacker A.J. Gass says it's time to hang up the cleats and pick up a clipboard.
The 32-year-old California native, who established himself as the heart and soul of the Green and Gold defence, announced Thursday he was retiring as a player to take up a new role as defensive assistant to the CFL team.
The former Fresno State player said he only planned to play one more season anyway.
"It was one of those situations where I could really push myself and work through the pain to play for one more year, or I could
take an opportunity that was offered to me that was going to help me for the rest of my life," he said. "About six years ago I decided coaching what I was going to
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do, so in the past few seasons it was just a matter of where was I going to get my opportunity."
The coaching offer came in off-season discussions with Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia.
His job will be to help out the other coaches wherever possible.
"I'm going to learn as much as I can about the whole thing, not just defensively but offensively as well.
"I'm gonna soak it up. I know my role is basically low man on the totem pole and eventually I'd like to work my way up."
Gass, born in the Los Angeles suburb of Bellflower, signed on as free agent with the Eskimos in 1998 and never played a pro game for anyone else.
He became known for his hard-nosed play and punishing hits on defence and special teams, emerging as a leader and fan favourite at Commonwealth Stadium.
In 131 career games, the six-foot-three, 205 pound Gass amassed 440 defensive tackles, 90 special teams tackles, 13 pass knockdowns, 12 quarterback sacks, eight forced fumbles, 22 tackles for losses, 10 fumble returns and three interceptions.
He also played in six playoff games and two Grey Cups, winning them both (2003 and 2005).
"On the field, A.J. Gass played with heart, toughness and intelligence and I believe he'll carry those qualities with him to become a very successful coach," Maciocia said in a news release.
That success came at a price. He underwent hand surgery, debilitating hamstring problems and had two surgeries on each knee, including full-blown reconstructions.
He said he won't miss "waking up in the middle of the night, aching, limping, icing and taking pills for pain."
In 2007, Gass missed the first three games of the season after undergoing knee surgery for an injury suffered during training camp.
He started the last 15 games of the season, racking up 47 defensive tackles, one special teams tackle, three knockdowns, two quarterback sacks, six tackles for losses and one fumble recovery.
Gass said he'll miss the locker-room camaraderie
"I've been warned by former players that it's the actual football, when it's in your face and they're doing it and you're not — that's when the struggle comes in."
His career highlights were the two Grey Cups.
He especially cherishes the 2005 championship, when the Eskimos came back as underdogs to beat Calgary and B.C. on the road before defeating the Montreal Alouettes in overtime to take home the hardware.
"That one to me was the pinnacle," said Gass. "The fact it didn't come easy and was a struggle for me made it sweeter.
"That's what you play for."