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Panthers steal two defensive stars from rival Lions

ALBANY — As if the rivalry between Albany and Columbus wasn’t already intense enough, the Panthers officially raised the stakes this week.

The Panthers continued to bolster their training camp roster by signing a pair of former Lions this week who will join the reigning Southern Indoor Football League champs when workouts for the 2012 season begin in two weeks.

But the new additions weren’t just any old former Lions players.

The Panthers signed Damian Daniels, a four-time defensive player of the year, and stud linebacker Ryan Babb.

Daniels (5-foot-10, 185 pounds, played in college at West Georgia) played four seasons for the Lions, earning First-Team honors in each of those four seasons to go along with his Defensive Player of the Year recognition. While showing the ability to be a dominant defensive back in the indoor game, Daniels has 59 career interceptions and led the SIFL with 18 last season. His versatility should prove valuable for the Panthers and provide head coach Lucious Davis with another shutdown defensive back.

Babb (6-0, 215, Troy) led the Lions’ defense in 2011. Babb finished the season with 22.5 tackles, including a sack. He also added four interceptions, seven pass breakups, a fumble recovery and scored three touchdowns.

“I’m sure this will just add more excitement to what’s become an already-intense rivalry,” Panthers GM Will Carter said of the signings. “I think we were able to land these two guys because they saw us win it all last year and want to be on a team that has a shot to do it again because — from what I’ve heard — Columbus is going in a different direction this year and signing a lot of rookie players.”

The Panthers, who left the SIFL this offseason and joined the Professional Indoor Football League, will hold a two-week training camp session Feb. 26 before kicking off the 2012 season, which opens March 17 — at home in the Albany Civic Center — against the Richmond Raiders.

The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m.