MONROE — It’s not often that a 6-foot-2, 285-pound lineman can rival a wide receiver in footwork drills.
Monroe two-way standout Josh Jerome is the rare exception.
“He can do ladder drills better than some of our receivers,” Bearcats football coach Michael Bumpus said. “He’s really a tight end trapped in a D-lineman’s body.
“He’s super athletic, especially for his size.”
As a three-year starter on both sides of the ball, Jerome showcased his devastating combination of size, strength and quickness with dominant play in the trenches.
Now, after playing a key role this fall in the Monroe football team’s historic season, the senior standout is preparing to take his talents to the college level.
Jerome plans to ink his National Letter of Intent to Eastern Washington University on Wednesday, the first day of college football’s new three-day early signing period.
“I feel like it’s going to be a big relief that all my hard work — all the studying hard overnight, all the workouts and lifting — is all coming together,” Jerome said. “Playing (college) football and having a great education — that’s mind-blowing to me.”
Jerome, who committed to Eastern in June and likely will be a defensive lineman in college, capped his prep career with another exceptional season on both sides of the ball. He wreaked havoc at defensive tackle, recording 87 tackles, eight sacks, 26 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a safety for a defense that allowed less than 20 points per game.
“As a D-lineman, you don’t get a lot of glory,” Bumpus said. “But he’s the type of guy to get that glory anyway, just because of the way he can affect the game.”
Jerome also excelled at left guard on Monroe’s massive offensive line, helping pave the way for a high-powered rushing attack that totaled nearly 2,800 yards and averaged almost seven yards per carry.
The two-way star lineman was instrumental in the Bearcats reaching the Class 4A state quarterfinals for the first time in program history.
“He’s a guy that literally had to go both ways for us to execute our game plan every week,” Bumpus said. “It’s rare that you game-plan offensively for your guard, but he’s the type of guy who made you do that.”
Ranked by 247Sports as the sixth-best senior defensive lineman in the state, Jerome displayed his defensive versatility by lining up in different spots and disrupting opposing offenses both as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher.
“Toward the end of the year, we actually brought him from the second level and had him blitz from the linebacker spot,” Bumpus said. “There’s not too many D-linemen you can do that with. He’s just real versatile. If we needed him to be a full-time outside linebacker, he could’ve done that for us.”
Jerome posted career highs in sacks and tackles for loss this season and doubled last year’s tackle total. Bumpus credited Jerome’s career-best season to his work ethic and the benefits of learning technique from first-year Monroe defensive line coach Manu Tuiasosopo, whose eight-season NFL career included five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks from 1979 to 1983.
“(Jerome) is really quick off the line,” Bumpus said. “And then with the addition of Manu Tuiasosopo, (Jerome) kind of took it to the next level as far as hand work and hand placement. At first, he was a big guy who would beat you up. And toward the end of his (high school) career, he became technical as well.”
One of Jerome’s best performances came in the Bearcats’ first-ever state-playoff victory, when he had four tackles for loss and a key strip-sack forced fumble in a 21-14 first-round win over Puyallup.
“He’s a guy that quarterbacks think about,” Bumpus said, “because if he has a chance, he’s going to get you.”
Many of Jerome’s best attributes as a defensive lineman translate to the other side of the ball. Jerome helped pave massive lanes for Monroe’s dominant rushing attack, using strength to plow defenders off the line of scrimmage and athleticism to pull-block downfield.
“He gets up to that second level in a hurry, like he gets off the ball on the D-line,” Bumpus said. “And once he sought out his target, he was going to make that block nine times out of 10.
“He brings a defensive mindset to offensive-line play. He wants to hit you.”
Jerome also received scholarship offers from Montana State, Weber State and New Hampshire, but said Eastern’s personable coaching staff and players stood out during his numerous visits to Cheney.
“I fell in love with Eastern right when I got there,” he said. “The atmosphere when I was there just set the tone.”
Jerome isn’t the only family member set to join the Division I college football ranks.
His older brother, JJ, is scheduled to sign Wednesday with FCS quarterfinalist New Hampshire. JJ, a 2017 Monroe graduate, starred at running back and linebacker for the Bearcats before spending this past season playing post-graduate football at a Connecticut prep school.
“He’s always been there (for me),” Jerome said. “He paved the way.”
Jerome said he considered joining his brother after receiving a late offer from New Hampshire, but decided to remain with Eastern.
“Every time I see the coaches, I just fall in love with (the program),” Jerome said.
Eastern has been one of the more successful FCS programs in recent years, winning the 2010 national championship and claiming at least a share of five Big Sky Conference titles over the past eight seasons.
“I think he can have a huge impact,” Bumpus said. “I think that if he continues to get good coaching — which he’s going to get at Eastern — I feel (like) he can be an all-conference player.”