By Skyler Trepel
Former USC running back C.J. Gable capped his football playing career last week, signing a one-day contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and announcing his retirement. It was a career that put him in the Sylmar High School record books, took him to Rose Bowl games and sent him across international borders for a productive eight-year career in the CFL.
Gable finished his football career up north with 880 carries for 4,803 yards and 28 touchdowns, to go along with 243 receptions for 2,225 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2013, he won the Frank M. Gibson Trophy as the most outstanding rookie in the East Division.
When asked about the most important lesson he learned over his professional career, Gable said, “Never give up. Always have faith in whatever you believe in and give it your all every time, every chance you get because you’ll never get that moment back… That’s why I go by AGNB: All Gas No Brakes… Give it all and never stop… because you never know what can happen.”
Growing up playing youth football, Gable nearly quit the sport very early on, and having just announced his retirement from a remarkably fascinating career, plenty of football fans are happy he didn’t. Gable’s relationship with football was mixed as he started playing at seven years old, quit, returned to playing a year later and nearly quit again before his mom encouraged him to keep going.
“Even if it’s something I don’t want to do, I still put 100% effort in.” Gable kept on trucking until he recognized how special his talent was during his high school career. It wasn’t just Gable who recognized these skills, as he got a letter from Oregon after his first varsity game and developed into a five-star prospect in the 2006 recruiting class.
Ultimately, Gable chose USC and signed with the Trojans.
“It was close to home and at the time, they [were] doing really well and producing NFL products,” Gable said.
He was a hometown favorite and wanted his fans and family to be able to come see him. He was never afraid of the competition as he came into USC with four other 5-star recruits in 2006. Every year they had another 5-star running back for C.J. to compete with.
“You have to fight every year and compete to keep your job… and that builds character out of people and a lot of people can’t handle that,” Gable said. “It is your job to secure… Now you gotta try to keep it because I’m about to try to bring people in to take it.”
Gable always loved to outwork his competition and achieve his goals. One of his goals was to start as a freshman, which he achieved by becoming the first Trojan freshman to ever start at running back in his opening game.
When asked how he was able to start at running back so early, Gable said he listened to his running back coach’s advice about being the best blocker he could be. This fits with Gable’s mantra of giving 100% to everything, including the little things.
“I know I could do it,” Gable said. “I never thought negative. I always thought positive… I listened to my coach. Whatever he [would] tell me, I was doing it… If you want to play at that level you’ve got to be coachable and be willing to do things you don’t want to do.”
He still remembers that first game like it was yesterday. Gable said he didn’t even know he would be starting until the day before the game. He started opposite legendary Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.
Gable is human after all, as he discussed not only being nervous before this game, but how those nerves helped him be better.
“That’s how I know that I’m ready,” Gable said. “If I’m not nervous, there’s something wrong.”
Gable also discussed scoring his first touchdown with the wide-eyed wonder of a college freshman a decade and a half after breaking the plane.
“It was like the greatest feeling I ever had because I had so many doubters of me,” Gable said. “After I got that first touchdown all that went away. I don’t care what nobody says. I am in control of what I’m doing.”
Gable enjoyed winning multiple Rose Bowls and fondly reminisced on his Trojan experience hanging out with his friends on game days without the professionalism and pressures of the big leagues.
“People watch college more than they watch NFL because they have more passion…more love for the game because you’re not playing for money,” Gable said.
Clearly, Gable found a lot of joy in competition. In fact, “Compete!” was his coach, Pete Carroll’s primary message every day.
“Compete every day, compete in everything you do,” Gable said.
Gable was inspired by how Carroll, the prolific USC and Seattle Seahawks coach, inspired his players to compete and go 100% in practice every single day with full contact.
“I felt like practice was harder than the game,” he said.
Gable gave a candid look inside Coach Carroll’s legendary practices. Carroll had, “Tell the Truth Monday… Competition Tuesday… No Turnover Wednesday… No Repeat Thursday.” Carroll would tell everyone what they did wrong in front of everyone and how to improve on Monday, foster intense one-on-on physical battles on Tuesday, install a no turnover rule with people trying to rip the ball out on Wednesday, and force the team to run plays in scrimmages without ever repeating the same one on Thursdays.
After finishing his USC career in 2009, Gable made it to the NFL in 2011 with the New Orleans Saints, but it was during the lockout and his timing couldn’t have been worse. Gable still looks back on the NFL with a positive attitude and great stories to share such as Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees helping him learn the playbook. The NFL was a competitive beast where the other running backs weren’t as willing to share their knowledge with the competitive Gable, but Brees was different and left a strong impression on him.
Gable also got to play with one of his heroes during his stint on the Denver Broncos, in Willis McGahee. He expressed his infectious, child-like enthusiasm at getting to meet John Elway and McGahee, who was Gable’s inspiration to wear number two on his jersey.
One of Gable’s strongest characteristics is his is his ability to persevere. After being released from the Broncos, Gable began to doubt himself for the first time in his career.
“I prayed about it… [God], if you want me to still play show me a sign,” Gable said.
Only a few days later Mike Davis, coach of the Nebraska Danger in the Indoor Football League called him. Although the opportunity didn’t offer much money, Gable knew that he would get great film to get his name back out there. He’d never played arena football, but rather than look down on the opportunity, Gable continued to give it 100%.
Almost immediately after competing in the IFL preseason, Gable got another sign as he was offered a tryout in the CFL. He had previously tried out for the CFL with three teams, including the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Gable said he’d heard from a friend early in his football career that if the NFL didn’t work out, he should give the CFL a try.
Gable had low expectations since his previous tryouts did not land him on a team, but that made him feel at ease during his tryout.
“I was relaxed so I did well in everything,” Gable said. “When you’re relaxed, you can play well and do well.”
When he got the contract offer, Gable was ecstatic. Bringing it full circle, Gable said that the blocking ability he began perfecting in that first Trojan start was his main takeaway from his Trojan career to the Canadian Football League.
When asked about the primary differences between Canadian football and American football Gable said, “The field is longer… and you have to be in shape. It’s a lot of running and there’s three downs… those two downs go by quick, so you’ve got to be in shape.”
Retiring at 33 may seem young to most, but this signals a long career for running backs. Gable never forgets his roots as he thanked his trainer Billy Parr for getting him in great shape.
“I really thank him for that. He was there from the beginning,” Gable said. “When nobody was helping me, he was there. He made my career last long.”
Gable continued to explain that the CFL required endurance over power since there were only two downs before having to punt the ball. Gable had many great moments in the CFL, but his first great moment he recalls is winning a playoff game against Montreal. The wind blew so hard in that game, that their field goal kick dropped to the ground from strong winds before reaching the uprights even though the trajectory was there. He wasn’t used to Canadian winter conditions yet.
Gable also remembered getting a key touchdown pass from CFL legend Henry Burress. Gable spun off of defenders as he broke multiple tackles after making a catch low to the ground before securing a touchdown to give his team the lead in the fourth quarter.
Gable even got to play in the Grey Cup, the Canadian equivalent of the Superbowl.
“It was just so fun up there with the guys. It felt like college again,” Gable said. “It’s still work… but the group of people you’re with make that group.”
His coaches always said, “it’s not their team it’s our team [the players’ team].
Gable wanted to pass on his wisdom to the next generation when asked what advice he would give: “Make sure you be prepared when you go to the next level… If you want this goal in life; High School players, if you want this goal in life train hard and get your body right to the next level because when you get to college it’s going to be a whole different experience… same advice when you get to the NFL or CFL. Just make sure you’re ready. Make sure your body is ready. Make sure your mind is ready… Make sure you’re ready to give it your all because you’re going to have your ups and downs.
“You’re going to have your adversity that you have to overcome. You’re going to have to and that’s in anything you do in life, but it’s how you handle it… are you going to break down and quit? I could have quit so many times… I felt like I could keep going… I didn’t want to be that what-if guy. That’s why I live by “All Gas No Brakes” because it’s my life and I gave it all… My next chapter I’m going to give it my all. I tell the young guys this: Make sure you give your all. Make sure you have the faith and make sure you stay positive in everything you do.”
When asked about his next chapter, Gable said, “I want to try to get into coaching and try to get into USC… I want to be a running back coach…I like helping kids. I like to help the younger kids; get them ready… and make sure their mind and stuff is ready.”
When asked for any closing words, Gable chose to thank those who stuck by him.
“Thank you, all my fans, for following me and I know some of you guys out there didn’t know where I was at playing football in the CFL, but I was there,” Gable said. “I was still playing… Thank you guys for following me and being there for me and making my experience of life and football great. It was great since I was little and all the way to now it was a great experience and I thank everybody.”
It sounds as though we may not have seen the last of C.J. Gable on a Trojan football field after all, but for now he deserves a moment to celebrate an incredible career of All Gas and No Brakes.
Gable’s Instagram handle @CJgable2real and twitter @CJ_gable
Skyler Trepel is currently pursuing his Master’s in Sports Journalism at USC, where he is a sports anchor for ATVN, reporter, NBA columnist and podcast host, producer and editor for Annenberg Media. Skyler is also a writer for LakeShow Life, host of the interview-style Mamba Moments podcast on the Bleav Network and co-host of the Shooting Bricks podcast, along with multiple guest appearances. As a lifelong sports fanatic and experienced multimedia journalist Skyler has a passion for the excitement, inspiration, and perseverance of the human spirits through interviews and storytelling within the realm of sport.