With only two weeks before the home opener with the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, Columbus’ Lions offensive and defensive lineman reported on the 29th and had their first practice with a full team on the 30th at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
Three linemen will be important if the Lions are to push for the National Arena League title in 2018, Dion Small, Robert Caldwell and Jason Schonbrunner and all have experience in arena football play.
The deacon of the group is multi-year veteran Small, who was on the roster last year when the Lions finished five yards short of winning it all.
“All through the off-season, Coach Gibson asked me how I was doing and how did I feel,” said the product of Troy University.”I was planning to retire after 2017 but I came back for Coach.”
“I can’t go out on a championship game loss,” the 6-3 300 pound lineman said.
Asked about previous teams Small reported that “Every team goes through adversity. It is how you bounce back from that is telling what you are made of. It is up to the veterans to set the tone.”
Gibson agreed with Small sand said that the veterans will have to lead the way for the rookies.
Another returnee for the Lions was 6-4 230 pound defensive player Robert Caldwell. Caldwell has not played for the Lions since 2015 but that was the year Columbus won the title in the old PIFL league.
The Lions repeated that in 2016.
“I have worked on staying in shape and playing semi-pro ball since that season but I came back because I love the game, the togetherness and this organization, which I feel is the best in the NAL,” said Caldwell of his return to Columbus.
“I need to do my job, play fast and help by bringing leadership to the team and to the defense,” Caldwell added.
Schonbrunner is no newcomer to the arena league but is a newcomer with the Lions and has nothing but positives to say about the Lions.
“First class all the way with equipment and attitude and the coach,” said Schonbrunner. “Gibson sold me on coming here and I am really glad I did. The people are friendly from the restaurants to the fans and even getting chiropractic care. The players are taken care of.”
Gibson is honest about his team after the first full practice.
“Our veterans need to step up and our play makers need to make plays,” Gibson said. “It is really hard to say where the team is after the first full practice but I have been here long enough to know, you may not win your first game but you need to win your last one.”
The Lions will find out soon enough. Columbus faced the Steelhawks in the 2017 semifinals and split the two regular season games. And right after that, the Lions will face the current champs, the Jacksonville Sharks.