BLOOMINGTON - One season in United Indoor Football at 185 pounds "weighed" heavily on Lamar Baker's mind during the offseason.
"Playing at that weight and tackling big running backs, it takes a toll," said Baker, the Bloomington Extreme's strong safety. "I wanted to come into this season and put on muscle. But because of my knee in the offseason, I couldn't really run as much until early December. I'm still working on getting the weight off."
The 5-foot-9 Baker, who tips the scales at 210 and would like to shed 10 more pounds, suffered an MCL tear late last season and another injury to the same left knee in this season's first game. Still, he's the Extreme's leading tackler in the first two games.
After giving up 53 points in the opener two weeks ago, Baker said the Extreme defense made significant progress last week before allowing 21 fourth-quarter points in a 41-33 loss to Ohio Valley. Bloomington (0-2) looks for its first victory when it entertains East Division-leading RiverCity (3-0) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
"After watching the tape, I believe we took a step forward. It's a learning process. A little bit of it might been conditioning in later quarters," said Baker, who turned 27 on Wednesday. "We were out there a lot, especially with them running and pounding the ball.
"This is a long season. It's a marathon, not a sprint. It's more learning right now, and it will help us in the end. That's what we care about, the playoff push at the end."
Injuries are not a new thing for Baker.
During his senior season at Missouri-Rolla, Baker suffered a small fracture in his back and played two games before it was discovered.
"Every time I hit somebody it would be shooting pain, but nobody knew what it was," he said.
Two doctors told Baker he would never play again, but another advised him if he strengthened his core muscles he would be able to return to the field. Baker played for the Arkansas Twisters and Louisville Fire of the af2 in 2004 and 2005 before joining the UIF expansion Extreme last season.
Baker led the Extreme with 22 pass deflections and was second on the team in tackles before injuring his left knee and missing the final game. The same knee was hurt again in this season's opener against Rock River, but Baker didn't stay off the field long. He leads the UIF in tackle points per game (20.5 overall) thanks to 17 solos and seven assists.
"The doctors said as long I don't have pain and wear a brace, I can play," said Baker, who works as a security monitor at Normal Community High School and a personal trainer at the Sports Enhancement Center. "They know it's an MCL tear, but they don't know if it's a new tear or I re-aggravated last year's (tear)."
While Ohio Valley went to a two-back formation in the second half and played smash-mouth football, Baker and the Extreme defense knows it will be a different story Saturday night.
The expansion Rage relies on speed and quickness. To counteract that, the Extreme is moving 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dorian Pitts from free safety to linebacker with Mike Crumpler taking over at free safety.
"Naturally, it will help us putting a faster person at middle linebacker. He (Pitts) is a physical person and quick," said Baker. "He's everything a good middle linebacker should be. He, of course, has size and is very physical and has an attitude and wants to crush everyone."
Extreme coach Ted Schmitz said the next four weeks could determine the team's fate this season. Bloomington plays RiverCity, Lexington, Omaha and RiverCity again.
"This league is really strong this year. We think we're better than we were a year ago overall, but we need to step up," he said. "Our next four games everyone is undefeated except Lexington, which lost in overtime to (RiverCity). Our schedule is loaded."
LaFalce to get start
Schmitz said Friday rookie quarterback Steve LaFalce will get the start Saturday, but Tom Kudyba also will play. Regular Dusty Burk, who hurt his knee in the preseason, returned to practice this week and should be back for next week's home game against Lexington, Schmitz said.
What: RiverCity Rage vs. Bloomington Extreme
Where: U.S. Cellular Coliseum, Bloomington
When: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WTRX-FM (93.7)