The 2013 season was one to forget for the Columbus Lions, as they posted a 4-8 record and missed the Professional Indoor Football League playoffs.
Sunday, the Lions get a chance to write a new chapter in their history as they kick off their 2014 campaign against the Harrisburg (Pa.) Stampede. Kickoff at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. is scheduled for 3 p.m.
"I feel like training camp went well for us," said Lions coach Jason Gibson earlier this week. "It's hard to tell until you get them out there in a game environment. We have a lot more experienced players (including 15 who have been selected to an All-League team at some point during their careers), but you still have to coach them up."
The new veterans among the Lions' ranks start under center, where Gibson signed 2012 PIFL Most Valuable Player Antwon Young, who spent last season with the Richmond (Va.) Raiders, and ex-Lion Chris McCoy -- the Southern Indoor Football League's Offensive MVP in 2010 -- to battle for the signal-calling job. Young will start today, but Gibson said that McCoy, who played for the Lions from 2009-2011, is a more-than-capable No. 2 who will eventually push for the starting position.
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"(Young and McCoy) are here to not turn the ball over and I don't think (Young) has thrown an interception in camp," said Gibson. "We wanted to have a quarterback who would take care of the ball and he has. (McCoy) was away from the game for a couple of years, isn't where he needs to be yet -- and he knows he's not -- but once he gets back to where he was, he'll be pushing for the job. We've got two good quarterbacks this year."
Gibson said not being able to take care of the football has been the Lions' downfall each of the past two seasons, leading to his focus on acquiring veterans and players who won't turn the ball over.
"We had 61 turnovers in 24 games over the past two years," said Gibson. "We went 10-14 in those games, even though we had 61 turnovers. You can't have that many turnovers and expect to win. If we score touchdowns on half of those possessions, that's 30 touchdown and about 210 points. That's an extra eight or nine points per game on average. That makes a huge difference. I wanted to go out and get some veteran leaders because I can only do so much as a coach. I had to have leaders on the field and I think we've got that."
Along with Young and McCoy, the Lions also picked up running back Kendrick Perry, the PIFL's all-time leading rusher who played for the Louisiana Swashbucklers in 2013, defensive back Roshawn Marshall -- who was second in the PIFL in interceptions last season as a member of the Richmond Raiders -- and defensive back Damian Daniels, a four-time league Defensive Player of the Year who is just three interceptions shy of the all-time indoor football career interception record.
Leading the returnees are veteran linebackers Ryan Babb and Justen Rivers, along with wide receivers Cody Pearcy, Gerald Gales, Earl Alexander and Jarmon Fortson, who may also see time at linebacker for the Lions.
"If we want to be successful this season, we're going to have to stay healthy," said Gibson. "That could be a problem with all of the veterans we have. We also have to make sure to manage all of the personalities we have on this team. This isn't the first rodeo for a lot of the guys on this team. Everybody in the league saw who we got and know we have the potential to be a championship team. This might be the last season for a lot of the guys on this team. They didn't just come here to play, they want to win a title. It's championship or bust."
Notes: The home opener for Columbus will be April 5 against the Richmond Raiders. Kickoff at The Columbus Civic Center will be at 7 p.m. and it will mark the 100th game in Lions' history...The Lions will host a Fan Fest Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Civic Center where fans will have a chance to meet the players, coaches and Lady Lions dance team...Harrisburg joined the PIFL from the American Indoor Football League, where the Stampede went 7-2 each of the last two seasons and won the league title in 2013.
Columbus Lions 2014 scheduleHome games at Columbus Civic CenterWEEK 1Sunday, March 30at Harrisburg Stampede, 3 p.m. WEEK 2Saturday, April 5vs. Richmond Raiders, 7 p.m. WEEK 3Friday, April 11vs. Georgia Fire, 7 p.m. WEEK 4Saturday, April 19at Trenton Freedom, 7 p.m.WEEK 5Saturday, April 26vs. Georgia Fire, 7 p.m.WEEK 6BYEWEEK 7BYEWEEK 8Saturday, May 17at Alabama Hammers, 8 p.m.Sat May 17th at 8:00pmWEEK 9Sunday, May 25at Nashville Venom, 4 p.m.WEEK 10Saturday, May 31vs. Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, 7 p.m.WEEK 11Saturday, June 7vs. Alabama Hammers, 7 p.m.WEEK 12Saturday, June 14vs. Nashville Venom, 7 p.m.WEEK 13Saturday, June 21at Alabama Hammers, 8 p.m.WEEK 14Saturday, June 28at Georgia Fire, 7 p.m.