The Columbus Lions will have two new players on their roster when they open the American Indoor Football playoffs on Saturday night at 7 at home against the New Mexico Stars.
One is a familiar face, the other a familiar foe.
After kicker Lindsey Wolfe was promoted to the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League, former Lions kicker Trey Crum, who was a part of the team’s 2010 SIFL championship roster, will be the Lions’ kicker in the postseason.
“Losing Lindsey was a big deal,” Columbus coach Jason Gibson said. “But Trey’s a vet, he’s accurate, and he kicked for a week and looks good. If we get three weeks out of that leg, we’ll be good to go.”
In addition to Crum, the Lions signed quarterback Cecil Lester for the playoff run. Lester is a familiar face to longtime Lions fans as he was under center for the Albany Panthers during their championship runs in 2011 and 2012.
“We’ve added a two-time indoor champion quarterback to the roster who will give us a little bit of a security blanket,” Gibson said of Lester. “He’s been doing it for a long time. He gets it, and he can still play at a high level. That gives us two championship level quarterbacks on our roster.
“My goal as a coach is to fill my roster with the most experienced and best players we can find. I think we’ve done that as best we’ve can.”
With Crum and Lester joining the roster, the Lions are set to play for back to back championships, albeit in two different leagues.
Their opponent is the enigmatic New Mexico Stars, a team that will have traveled 20 hours by bus to play in Columbus and were part of a tumultuous Western Division in the AIF.
Four division rivals – Texas (Richland Hills), Abilene (Tex.), Louisiana (Baton Rouge), and Northshore (Slidell, La.) – made the league schedule but folded before even playing a game. Another team, the Steel City Raiders out of Pueblo, Colo., folded midseason, giving New Mexico a forfeit victory.
The final Western Division domino fell when Corpus Christi folded earlier last month, giving the Stars yet another forfeit win. The last four games involving New Mexico have been against semipro teams which agreed to play the Stars at the last minute, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
“They earned their way in,” AIF commissioner John Morris told the Journal earlier this week. “They played and won almost all their games and earned the right to be included.”
The Stars do have one known quantity, however, in coach John Fourcade, a veteran of the indoor game. Fourcade is no stranger to Columbus, either, having coached the af2’s Columbus Wardogs in their final two seasons in 2003 and 2004.
“We looked at some film on them,” Gibson said. “Coach Fourcade is a good coach and knows the indoor game, so that’s priority No. 1. Having to play someone like that is going to make for a really good game.”
One of the main differences in the success of the Lions over the past two seasons has been the play between the tackles. Gibson says having strong players in the trenches is key for success.
“That’s in the NFL, AFL, CIF, our league, it doesn’t matter; if you have a good O-line and D-line, you’ll always have a chance,” he said. “Our offensive line is as good as there is. They’re all vets, they’ve been around 4, 5, 6 years. When you have those type of players, you’ll always be in the game.”
Despite the second season beginning on Saturday, the Lions will have the same approach as they have had in each of their eight games this season, all of them victories.
“Absolutely not,” Gibson said when asked if the team has a different frame of mind for the playoffs. “They’re excited to play a really good, well-coached team, but I’m not going to steer away from what I said all year long, and that’s we practice against ourselves. Who we go against every day in practice on our 30-man roster are among the best players in this league, from top to bottom. They’ve bought into that. I’ve got guys who aren’t going to dress (Saturday) who could start on any team in this league.
“They compete, and they compete well.”