Lions vs. Empire preview

by Alex Husting

This Saturday the Columbus Lions will be opening the season sooner than expected. A recent schedule change has forced the Lions to play their opening game a week early and on the road against the Albany Empire. After nearly 2 years away from the game of football, coach Jason Gibson and the Lions will be returning to the game in New York on Saturday.

As the season opens it’s a little difficult to anticipate exactly what will happen between a lot of the teams playing because there is not much in terms of film on previous teams to look at. The last NAL season came in 2019 and since then rosters have changed dramatically. While many players are veterans, it is difficult to anticipate how they will mesh with their current teams. It would not be very surprising to see some rust and mistakes in every game during week one simply due to time off combined with very short training camps. 

For the Lions there is some familiarity with Mason Espinosa returning at quarterback. The veteran quarterback played two years with the Lions back in 2017 and 2018, even winning the NAL Offensive Player of the Year award in 2018. Now he’s back and ready to continue with the Lions which will help Coach Gibson get his offense ready with a star quarterback at the helm. 

There are a number of players to watch in this game for the Lions including Lonnie Outlaw, one of the veteran receivers on the roster and one of the leaders of this offense right now. Outlaw has been very vocal throughout training camp and will hope to have success this season on the field while also leading the team off the field. Additionally, Antwane Grant is the other star wide receiver and former AFL Rookie of the Year and a key player to watch. Throughout camp his quickness has allowed him to win most one-on-one matchups with the Lions’ top cornerbacks and could be a big part of the passing attack.

As for running the football, Tiberius Lampkin has already stood out in camp after only a few days there and seems to be taking the majority of first team reps. His physical style will definitely be something the Lions look to this Saturday both in pass protection and on the ground to keep the Empire defense off balance.

On the defensive side Marvin Ross has made his return to Columbus and has already showed off his talent during camp. The former All-NAL selection is looking like a shutdown corner for Columbus and he could really lead the back end of the defense during the 2021 season. On the line of scrimmage, the Lions have two forces in Corey Crawford and “Big General” Ulric Jones. Crawford is making his return to Columbus in 2021 as well and will look to continue the success he had with the Lions in 2018. For Jones, his 6’7” frame could be a huge factor in disrupting the passing game and causing chaos for smaller quarterbacks.

The Albany Empire are coming into this season with a very different team since they last played in 2019. An entirely new coaching staff has been hired, led by head coach Tom Menas, a former NFL and USFL player. Menas has assembled a staff of former players and experienced coaches, all with storied careers around different arena football leagues. 

On the field, the Empire look very different as well but there is a familiar face to some Lions fans, quarterback David Pindell. Pindell was a quarterback from UConn who signed with the Lions and ended up being traded to the Albany Empire in April. Now Pindell will be facing his former team in the home opener for the Empire.

For the Empire, homefield advantage could play a big factor as the Lions are traveling a long way on short notice. For the Lions, with a shorter camp it will be up to veteran leaders like Mason Espinosa and Marvin Ross to step up and make plays to lead their team to victory. 

Kickoff for the season opener is set to 7 p.m. on Saturday inside the Times Union Center. 


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 Follow the Lions on Facebook at, twitter @columbuslions and


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 For more information about the NAL visit,,,