COLUMBUS, Ga. – It's been a long road, but the wait is finally over as the Columbus Lions of the Professional Indoor Football League embark on their seventh season of indoor football when they make their 2013 season debut this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET when they host the Knoxville Nighthawks in "The Jungle" on "Military Appreciation Night."
After a quick exit in the playoffs, the Columbus Lions spent majority of the off-season trying to repair a defense that finished at or near the bottom in almost every major defensive category. Last season as many as eleven rookies saw playing time, only LB Jamontay Pilson (6'3 275, NW Mississippi) returns while the rest of the defense is comprised of indoor veterans including LB Justen Rivers who returns for his seventh season with his hometown Lions.
Two of those veterans include DB's Marvin Bohannon (6'0 200, Winston Salem St.) and Anthony Shutt (6'0 190, Florida AM) whom both played for other squads in the PIFL. This Sunday, Shutt will be making an appearance against his former squad while Bohannon will have to wait for an early trip to Huntsville before he can face off against the Hammers.
"Defense was a primary concern for us in the off-season and it showed during training camp," said Columbus Lions Head Coach Jason Gibson. "The improved defense played with a bite we lacked last season and proved to be ahead of our offense and hopefully that will be reflected this Sunday."
Offensively, for the fifth consecutive opening season game the Lions offense will feature a new signal-caller with second year man Garrett Sutphen (6'4 220, UNC-Pembroke) getting the opening nod over Marcus Jones (6'4 225, Duke).
Sutphen will have the difficulty of replacing the departed Randy Hippeard who enjoyed a successful 2012 campaign finishing on the PIFL's All-2nd Team after leading the league in passing touchdowns (72), passing yards (3,280), and completion percentage (64.5%). Last season while with the AIF's Cape Fear Heroes, Sutphen shared quarterbacking duties as the Heroes swept their way to a league title.
For Knoxville, their 2013 season kicks off where last season ended. On the week's final season, the Lions completed a three-game sweep of the Nighthawks defeating them 76-63 ending their inaugural season with a record of 1-11.
After spending the past couple of seasons as an assistant with the AFL's Georgia Force, Cosmo DeMatteo will be making his head coaching debut for the Hawks.
Much like Columbus, for the most part Knoxville will feature a different team with only seven players returning in all. DB Ginikachi Ibe headlines the defense and last season he earned the 2012 PIFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honor after leading the league with ten interceptions. Ibe proved to be a major thorn in the Lions side as four of the league-leading INT's happened against them.