The Iowa Barnstormers will always have a special place in linebacker Michael Lewis' heart.
In his rookie season with Iowa, Lewis sat out the first eight weeks, confined to the bench when he thought he could compete. Now an All-Arena performer with the Utah Blaze, you could say the chip is tattooed on his shoulder.
"When we get on the field, it's personal," Lewis says. "I'm going to put on a performance. I respect the organization â¦ but when those lights come on, I have no friends. I don't want any friends."
Lewis is hardly the only member of the Blaze defense who is licking his lips with the Barnstormers coming into town Friday night. In the last contest on the road against Iowa, the Utah pass rush came away with a Arena Football League record of 10 sacks in a game in a 69-49 win.
It's a huge reason that Utah is leading the league with 18 sacks through five games and why the Blaze defense has designated itself "Sack City." Lewis leads all individuals with seven sacks, while defensive end Caesar Rayford has four and a half. The two have a strong belief that they'll put on an encore.
"We can always do it again," Rayford says. "If they think we can't repeat, it'll make us show them."
But the Iowa team that Utah ground into the turf isn't necessarily the same one the Blaze will be facing this week at home. The Barnstormers have won their last two games, and Iowa features one of the league's top receivers in Jesse Schmidt. Iowa has also shored up its protection with a new fullback and a guard.
Meanwhile, Utah hasn't exactly been a lockdown defense the past two matchups, allowing 139 points against New Orleans and Jacksonville. An injury to Josh Jones could be problematic for what already is a shaky secondary.
"We've got to play our best football," coach Ron James says. "Our last home game was very disappointing, and we pride ourselves in playing well in front of our fans."
If Lewis gets his way, the home crowd will get plenty to cheer about.
"I mean, those guys are down there in Iowa with the cows and corn we're up in Utah with the mountain lions and rams," Lewis says, making Rayford snicker at his trash talk. "They can't compete in this altitude. We're going to put on a show."
Iowa Barnstormers at Utah Blaze
P At EnergySolutions Arena, Friday, 7 p.m.
Records • Iowa 3-2, Utah 3-2
TV • KMYU
Radio • 97.5 FM, 1280 AM
Noteworthy • The Blaze try to continue winning by sweeping the Barnstormers for the season.