Preseason Q&A with Mason Espinosa
This week I got to talk with starting quarterback for the Columbus Lions Mason Espinosa about how he’s handled the recent schedule change, what brought him back to Columbus and his main goal for the upcoming season.
So I know the sudden schedule change has really shifted plans, so how have you been handling and preparing for that game against the Empire?
A. Yeah, it's been kind of crazy. It's definitely a unique challenge, something I've never done and I don't think anyone else has really ever done but I mean, who better than us to be the first? You know, really the best thing we can do right now is just make sure we go into the game full of confidence, play good football, good sound football, limit turnovers, limit penalties, and just play and do what we do well. That's really the only thing you can control at this point is how well you play, how well you perform, and let the chips fall where they may.
In preparing for games, most quarterbacks will watch film of the opposing team in order to read the defenses better and how exactly are you doing that with a team that hasn’t played in nearly two years?
A. Yeah, it's really tough, quite honestly, and to make it even worse, that's not the same coaching staff from the 2019 Albany Empire. It's a totally different coaching staff, totally different defensive scheme, totally different players. So really, the best we can do is look at the coaches and look where they've been in the past. Fortunately, we know their defensive coordinator that they have there now. We've played him before back in 2018, he was with the Massachusetts Pirates, and then in 2019 he was with the Atlantic City Blackjacks, who have a couple former Blackjack players on our team. So we were able to look at old films at what that coach does well. That particular coach, he's a very good coach. He has a great scheme. So we've tried to look at that, see how we can attack that and have a plan for that. But at the end of the day, we just have to do what we do really well because at the end of the day, if we play well, that's all we can control and we're gonna like the end result.
With being out of football for two years, how did you handle that and stay ready for a return to the game?
A. It was very difficult. I mean thinking back to, like, the actual year of 2020, that was the first time in my life since I was five or six years old, probably that I didn't play competitive, something a competitive game, a football game, or even a youth sport for something, I didn't have one of those, and that's really tough, especially for somebody that's like we all are, competitive by nature, we love sports, we love competing, we love winning, that's difficult. So it was a lot of patience, right? A lot of just staying ready, just in case, a lot of workouts, a lot of throwing sessions, and stuff like that just to kind of move forward in case there's an opportunity on the rise and knowing, eventually, we're gonna come out of this pandemic like I think we are now. Just having that foresight and knowing that it's coming, and still driving and working towards attaining something, I think is really the only way we were able to handle it.
I know you played with Columbus in 2017 to 2018 even winning the NAL Offensive Player of the Year award in 2018, so could you talk me through just the process of why and how you left Columbus 2018 and how you ended up back here with the Lions for 2021?
A. So after 2018 we were a really good team. It was a really fun group of dudes, and we came up just short in the championship, unfortunately I didn't get to play in it, which kind of left a bitter taste in my mouth. So I knew I wanted to keep pushing and kind of try to get to that mountaintop. I had an opportunity to go up and actually play in Albany for the Empire in 2019, and be on that team in the Arena Football League. So I took that opportunity just to kind of challenge myself, get up there, learn how other people do things, although I wasn't learning how other organizations do things, learn new schemes, get better as a player. I feel like, personally, those personal goals of mine were accomplished. Now that, after the COVID year, coming back and realizing, man, I really want to, I miss Columbus. Columbus has kind of become my second home, to really dive in and really invest myself into that city, that’s something I want to do for the near future. I knew that it was something I wanted to do. I was glad that I had that experience and that opportunity in Albany in 19 because I feel like I'm a better player and a better player for this organization.
You mentioned not getting a chance to play in the championship game, could you tell me a bit about the circumstances surrounding that and what led to you missing the game?
A. So the last game of the regular season, I actually had a knee injury. It was actually, I think, in the second quarter or something, it was an odd time. We were trying to go and score and just kind of a freak accident, trying to run the ball in and just got tangled up weird. I had a little bit of ligament damage in the knee where I did a lot of rehab. Unfortunately, it was non surgical so I did my best to rehab. I actually flew to Ohio, where there was a trainer I really knew and respected that took me through some pretty extensive rehab, just trying to get me back for the championship game. Unfortunately, when I got back, the doctors did not clear me, being unable to, unfit to compete, or whatever they say. So, unfortunately, I didn't get to play in that game, and it was devastating. We put a lot of hard work and a lot of time into that, and to not be able to take part in the payoff was pretty frustrating on my end, but it is what it is. God has plans.
Now back in Columbus nearly three years later, has the offense changed or is that familiarity still there?
A. Yeah I think it's, I think it's both. I know it's kind of a bailout answer, but you know, every year each team is different. So you look back at some of the stuff they did in 19 when I wasn't with the Lions, they did some different things, because of what they had personnel wise, every team is different. If you go back, our 17 team, we did stuff differently than our 18 team. And the 19 team does stuff differently than the 18 team. So like all the personnel changes, so what you do kind of changes, but the core of it, like the structure, the bones of it, the terminology, the verbiage, all that stuff is really similar. I've always had a really good relationship with Coach Gibson, we've always seemed to have worked well together. So that was a very large driving factor in me coming back and playing for Columbus.
It seems like every quarterback has their go-to receiver who they can rely on in crunch time. I know camp has been relatively short but have you found that number-one guy or are you just really comfortable with the whole group?
A. Quite honestly, the entire group of receivers are incredible. It's the most talented, if there's a more talented wide receiver group in Arena Football, I got to see it, because I don't believe it. So, to me that's really nice for me, because now it's less dictated on the player, ‘I gotta force to this guy’. Instead it’s ‘Hey, where's the coverage determining if the ball is gonna go?’ because I know, whoever I throw it to, in crunch time, they're gonna go make a play, for sure there's no doubt about that. I mean, there's been plays all across the board, from everybody. It's been really, really a blessing to see there.
I’ve gotten to attend some practices this offseason and I’ve seen that you're very vocal and supportive of your teammates. Is that something you’ve picked up over time or have you always been a natural leader in camp?
A. I think it's kind of a weird thing, but I wouldn't say I've always been like as vocally, whatever you want to say in that aspect quite as much as I am now. Just because especially in my early arena football career, I was still learning and I'm still learning to this day that doesn’t mean I'm not learning but I was really trying to learn everything and soak it all up. Now seeing a bunch of guys that are coming in new, that arelearning Arena Football. I just love Arena Football. I love football in general, but I love arena football, I have a really deep passion for it. I just love helping to teach new guys about the game and new techniques and seeing them move on and succeed. It's really cool. My other profession when I don't play Arena Football, I'm a college football coach. So it kind of comes with the territory there where having that, I've been coaching college football now for seven years. So having that experience in the coaching aspect, has really helped me kind of have that confidence to be able to just vocalize something and say something when I see it, especially this at this point in my career.
Last thing I wanted to ask you is, what are your biggest personal goals for this upcoming season?
A. The biggest personal goal number one, is to bring a title back to Columbus. We came up short in 2017 and 2018, both in the championship games. Two very heartbreaking games for different reasons. For me, personally, I think this city, I think this team, I think this organization, I think every single one of these players deserves the championship. And so that is number one. First and foremost goal, for me, personally, is to bring a title for everyone that's put in, this effort, this hard work through this pandemic, just getting through the day. I want to bring them some joy and win a championship for them.
With the season opener on Saturday, May 29, Mason Espinosa is looking to start the season off with a win. A win would start the season off right for the Lions and give them some much needed momentum in the quest for a championship.
ABOUT THE COLUMBUS LIONS
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.
ABOUT NATIONAL ARENA LEAGUE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about the NAL visit www.nationalarenaleague.com, facebook.com/nationalarenaleauge, twitter.com/NALfootball, Instagram.com/nationalarenaleague.