This Friday the Columbus Lions will have their first game back at the Columbus Civic Center in nearly two years. Their opponent for their home opener is the Orlando Predators, one of the more storied teams in the history of arena football. 

The Predators were created in 1991 and joined the Arena Football League four years after the league’s creation. The Predators were members of the league for the next 25 seasons, even winning two ArenaBowl championships in 1998 and 2000. 

Issues with the team’s relationship with the AFL and the AFL’s own financial issues led to the Predators halting operations in 2016. 

In 2019, the team was revived by former Predator Kenny Mcintyre and they joined the NAL for the 2019 season. 

The last time the Lions and Predators met, it was in the Predators’ home arena, the Amway Center. The Predators came away with a hard fought 42-40 win led by quarterback Kyle Israel’s five touchdowns and a pick-six from defensive back Robert Brown Jr. 

Since that time, the Predators have changed dramatically. Israel and Brown are no longer with the team, and much like the Albany Empire, an entirely new coaching staff has been brought in. With this being the Predators’ season opener, the Lions face the same issue that Mason Espinosa mentioned in his Q&A last week. There is no film of the Predators under this current staff to watch in order to prepare for the game. It seems likely that the Lions will have to once again find film from the coaches’ previous teams and prepare that way. 

The leader of the new staff is former Dallas Cowboys and Orlando Predators quarterback Ben Bennet. Bennet led the Predators offense during the team's first five years of operation and he was even inducted into the Orlando Predators Hall of Fame in 2000. 

Flanking Bennet are three experienced coaches with on the field and off the field experience in Arena Football, including former offensive lineman and All-Arena selection for the Predators E.J. Burt. 

With the new staff comes a new roster and while there are no official announcements as of yet from the Predators, there are some players who stand out and could have a big role on the team this season. 

Rob Jones was a second team All-NAL selection in 2019 as a member of the New York Streets and he is returning to the NAL in 2021 with the Predators. Jones' experience and ability makes him a dangerous target and one that the Lions defenders should keep an eye on. 

As for who will be getting Jones the ball, there are two quarterbacks on the roster, Faustino Saucedo Jr. and Rakeem Cato. Saucedo played college football at West Virginia State and graduated just before the 2019 season and he has yet to see any arena football action. 

Rakeem Cato started at Marshall University and he nearly led the team to an undefeated season in his senior year while setting the record for most consecutive games with a passing touchdown with 39 straight games. 

Since then, Cato has played in the CFL, American Arena League and A-League, even winning the inaugural A-League championship with the Gulf Coast Fire. Cato then signed with the Predators in late 2019, hoping to play during the 2020 season. 

Cato’s experience and talent combined with the fact that he has remained with the team during the staff turnover shows that the team likes what they have in Cato. This could be a problem for the Lions. In the season opener, the Lions pass defense struggled to contain Tommy Grady and Darius Prince and they could face another great duo in Cato and Rob Jones. Friday’s matchup could be another high scoring contest for Columbus as Mason Espinosa and the receiving core, which recently added Jarmon Fortson, will be looking to keep up the momentum from Saturday’s season opener in which Espinosa threw nine touchdowns. 

On defense, outside of an interception from Marvin Ross the defense had no answers for Grady and Prince, including no sacks, and will be hoping for a different outcome this Friday. Some pressure on the quarterback could throw off the rhythm of Cato and give Ross and company more opportunities for turnovers. 

The home opener against the Orlando Predators is set to kick off on June 4 at 6 p.m. EST inside the Columbus Civic Center. The game can be watched live with CTV Beam, at https://www.nationalarenaleague.com/home or on the NAL’s official Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSzSD8STXiEVPVtUDO9juhA


The Columbus Lions are members of the National Arena League (NAL). Founded in 2007, the Columbus Lions are starting their 15th season in 2021. The Lions are a 3x league champion and 13 playoff appearances in their rich history. The Lions play their home games at Hughston Field in the Columbus Civic Center. Lions Season Ticket Memberships are on sale now call (706) 322-3336 or visit columbuslions.com. Follow the Lions on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Lionsfootball/, twitter @columbuslions and instagram.com/Columbuslions.


The National Arena League was founded in 2016 and hosted its inaugural season in 2017 as the premier league in arena football. The National Arena League will kick off its fifth season in 2021. For more information regarding expansion opportunities or partnerships, contact Commissioner Chris Siegfried at chris@nationalarenaleague.com For more information about the NAL visit www.nationalarenaleague.com, facebook.com/nationalarenaleauge, twitter.com/NALfootball, Instagram.com/nationalarenaleague.