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Columbus Lions expecting to contend for AIFA crown

New year, new season, same expectations.

After going 10-4 and reaching the playoffs two consecutive years, Columbus Lions coach Jason Gibson said his goals for the 2009 American Indoor Football Association season are the same.

“It’s not like we’re trying to get good or were a 2-13 team — we’ve been good,” Gibson said. “We expect to play the same way again and make another run at the championship.”

The team’s veterans should play a role in getting the Lions in contention again.

Columbus, with signings still ongoing, already has secured a more experienced roster than it had last year, according to Gibson.

The lineup will include returners such as former Defensive Player of the Year Damian Daniels, quarterback Joey Conrad and defensive back Ramone Nickerson, who played for Central-Phenix City and Tuskegee.

A pair of other signees have returned to Columbus, but not from last season. After spending time with the Arena Football League’s Los Angeles Avengers, offensive linemen Branden Hall and Monreko Crittenden re-signed with the Lions on Monday.

Crittenden (6-foot-5, 385 pounds) was an All-Southeastern Conference lineman at Auburn.

“Last year, we had a bunch of rookies,” Gibson said. “This year, it’s a bunch of vets. We want guys who are able to play for a championship.”

Hall (6-4, 330) played in college at Troy.

Influx of talent

The AFL’s one-year hiatus and the All American Football League’s postponement have changed the landscape of indoor football this season.

Leagues such as the Lions’ AIFA, have an influx of talent, now that former AFL and college players flood the market.

“I think, four years ago, we had two guys on our team with D-I experience,” Gibson said. “Now, I’.ve got almost 20 that we’ve just signed for this year and six guys with NFL experience. The talent level (in the league) has definitely changed.”

Community programs

The Lions added a high school all-star game to their community programs.

The organization will host another youth indoor football league this year and, for the first time, is conducting a Georgia-Alabama all-star game for high school seniors.

The Georgia vs. Alabama Indoor Classic lineups will be announced Jan. 26. The game will be Feb. 22 at the Columbus Civic Center.

Brookstone coach Blair Harrison will coach Georgia, and Russell County coach Rico White will coach Alabama. Lions players and coaches will act as assistants.

The Lions will donate a $1,000 Columbus State scholarship to one player and an automated external defibrillator will be donated to each head coach’s school after the game.

“We want this to be a game for, maybe not the big Division-I guy, but the high school senior who is Mr. Football,” Gibson said. “The guy on the team who does everything for his team. We want this to be a game for those guys.”

Gibson said he may invite college coaches and scouts and play the game earlier next year to help the players secure spots on a college team. This year’s game will be played more than two weeks after the official college signing day, Feb. 4.

Final open tryout

The Lions’ second and final open tryout will be Jan. 24 in LaGrange, Ga.

The five-hour session is set to begin at 10 a.m. at Callaway Stadium.

Participants will be evaluated in the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard short shuffle and drills relevant to their position.

The $55 registration fee must be paid in cash or money order. Participants can register in advance at the Lions’ office in the Columbus Civic Center or by mailing or faxing in a registration form available on the team’s Web site,