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May 22, 2018

Gable will bring a different look to No. 2

First, the Eskimos revived C.J. Gable’s football career by acquiring the 30-year-old running back in a trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last October.

Then, Edmonton actually gave him the ball – letting Gable run 22 times in his debut with the Green and Gold and giving him another 15 carries the next time out as he produced back-to-back 100-yard rushing games.

“I was excited about how many times I was getting the ball,” Gable said recently as he was getting ready for training camp. “It was like crazy, man. They really wanted to use me.”

Now, the Esks are letting Gable play with the same number he wore during back-to-back 2,000-yard high school rushing seasons at Sylmer, Calif., and as the first true freshman in University of Southern California Trojans history to start a season opener at tailback. Gable finished his college career with 1,549 rushing yards on 308 carries in 41 games and won three consecutive Rose Bowl championships from 2006-08.

The jersey Gable will be wearing this season is No. 2.

“I was happy I was able to get it,” said Gable, who wore No. 39 during his six games (including two playoff games) with the Eskimos last season after wearing No. 32 with the Ticats. “That was the main thing I wanted when I re-signed.”

While former backup quarterback James Franklin recently wore that number with the Esks, No. 2 carries a lot of significance for long-time Eskimos fans. That’s the same number CFL Hall of Famer Henry (Gizmo) Williams wore when he set league records with 26 punt-return touchdowns – including five in one year – during 14 seasons with the Esks.

The popular Williams, who stood only five-foot-six, also returned three kickoffs and two missed field goals for touchdowns and usually completed his long scoring runs with a backflip in the end zone. One of his most notable returns was taking a missed field goal 115 yards for a touchdown in the 1987 Grey Cup. When he retired in 2000, Gizmo was the CFL’s all-time leader in punt returns (1,003), punt-return yardage (11,177), kickoff returns (335) and kickoff-return yardage (7,354) and had totalled 23,927 all-purpose yards in 149 regular-season games.

“I didn’t know that,” Gable said about Gizmo and his performance with the Eskimos while wearing No. 2. “I guess I have some big shoes to fill.”

The Eskimos would be happy if Gable just filled the shoes he was wearing last season. After John White tore the ACL in his right knee in Edmonton’s second regular-season game on June 30 last year, there was a revolving door at the tailback position until the six-foot, 219-pound Gable joined the team.

Gable averaged 5.1 yards per carry while rushing for 367 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries during four regular-season games with the Esks. He also had another 161 rushing yards and three TDs during two playoff games.

Despite losing the West Division final to the Calgary Stampeders, Gable was excited to return to Edmonton this season “because I could see the potential in the team. I knew we are going to be able to (get to the Grey Cup) if I came back.”

He also felt the Eskimos were the best fit for him, personally.

“Knowing that I was going to get the ball a lot is a big thing,” he said.

“It was a big difference,” he added about his time with the Eskimos after averaging fewer than nine carries during 51 CFL games over five seasons with the Tiger-Cats. “I liked it.

“It seems like if I get the ball more, I get stronger while I run so it’s a good thing for me. You can do a lot more when you’re getting the ball that much because you get in a groove of everything and figuring out how the linemen are blocking in a game and all that.”

Of course, Gable is also a strong blocker who can help protect quarterback Mike Reilly when he’s not carrying the ball or running a pass pattern.

Gable liked what he saw of the Eskimos’ offence during the mini-camp at Las Vegas in April. It was the first time the team’s veterans joined the prospects at mini-camp, but the early start to the season with medicals on May 19 and the opening day of training camp on May 20 created the need for that situation.

“It was good,” Gable said about the mini-camp. “It felt like we were all clicking together. Everything was going well. Even the new kids were picking things up.”

Now it’s time for the real training camp, with the first pre-season game on May 27.

Gable has high expectations for the 2018 season. Besides the Grey Cup, he wants to have his first 1,000-yard rushing season as a pro.

“I know being in this offence, there’s a lot of times to get the ball,” he said. “And I like having a balanced attack. Then (opponents) don’t know if we’re going to put a run in or put a (pass) play in. That’s a good thing I liked (last year).”

Gable’s competition at running back in training camp seems to be 25-year-old rookie Shaquille Cooper (five-foot-10, 190 pounds), who rushed for 2,768 yards and 19 touchdowns at Fort Hays State, a NCAA Division II school in Kansas.

The Eskimos also have six national running backs/fullbacks at training camp in 2018 draft picks Tanner Green (Concordia University), Alex Taylor (Western University) and Blair Zerr (Humboldt State), free-agent signings Chris Amoah and Christophe Normand (both out of Laval University), plus returning veterans Calvin McCarty and Pascal Lochard.