MONROE — After spending most of his high-school football career under the radar, Isaiah Lewis was eager to prove himself with a strong senior season.
“My whole high-school career before my senior year was pretty quiet,” he said. “I made a few impacts here and there, (but) I knew that I had more in me.
“I knew I could do way better. I just wanted to prove that.”
Lewis certainly showcased his ability this fall, rising from relative unknown to breakout star.
The first-year Monroe starting running back rushed for a school-record 2,064 yards and 25 touchdowns this season during a spectacular senior campaign, averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 172 yards per game.
Lewis also was the team’s third-leading receiver, posting 412 yards receiving and three touchdown catches.
He totaled 2,476 yards and 28 touchdowns on offense, averaging 206 yards per game while helping the Bearcats reach the Class 4A state quarterfinals for the first time in program history.
For his exceptional season, Lewis is The Herald’s 2017 All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
“I realized that it was on me and my class to lead this team,” Lewis said. “I realized I (couldn’t) just sit back and watch — I (had) to go out there and do it.”
Lewis dedicated himself to countless hours of training this offseason, cutting about 10 pounds while building muscle and gaining considerable speed.
“He was the first guy in the gym (and) the last guy out,” Monroe coach Michael Bumpus said. “He would call me up and ask me if there was more that he could do on his own at home. He just put in the work.”
Lewis was a bit of an unlikely star in the backfield, given that prior to this season he’d logged just three carries over his entire varsity career.
Though he played running back throughout his youth and at the sub-varsity level, the Bearcats used the versatile Lewis at several other positions once he reached varsity. He played defensive end as a sophomore, and was a wide receiver and linebacker as a junior.
But after the graduation of 2,000-yard rusher JJ Jerome — who helped Monroe end a 25-year state-playoff drought in 2016 — the Bearcats were faced with a massive void at running back.
Entering team camp this past summer at Eastern Washington University, Lewis was in a two-man battle to fill the position.
Lewis wasted no time winning the job.
“By the end of the first day, Lewis was our clear-cut starter,” Bumpus said.
“He totally showed off his dominance,” Monroe offensive lineman Elijah Tofilau added. “He was making cuts I haven’t seen before and running through tackles.”
Lewis carried that dominance into the season and never looked back, rushing for 150 yards or more in nine of his team’s 12 games. Running with superb vision behind the Bearcats’ massive senior-laden offensive line, he displayed a lethal mix of explosiveness, agility, elusiveness and physicality.
“He can see holes like nobody else,” Monroe offensive lineman Austin Steltz said. “He knows exactly where to hit them, he’s fast (and) he knows how to cut and use all those kinds of moves.”
“He’s an elusive guy, but every move he made was getting upfield,” Bumpus added. “And I think that’s what give him (an) advantage.”
The Bearcats leaned heavily on Lewis during their historic postseason run, giving him 112 carries over their three playoff games. He answered the bell, rushing for a combined 590 yards and four touchdowns in those three contests.
Lewis was instrumental to Monroe’s first-ever state-playoff win, gaining 195 yards on 45 carries in an opening-round victory over Puyallup.
“That feeling was one I’ve never experienced before in my life,” Lewis said of the historic win. “It was crazy. After the game, I was running around high-fiving people I didn’t even know. It was a great feeling. It was awesome.”
When asked about his success this season, Lewis is quick to deflect credit to his talented offensive line.
“If you go back and watch the film and you just focus on them, you see how dominant they are every play,” Lewis said. “The way they do their jobs so well, it made my job so much easier.”
Bumpus said Lewis’ brilliant senior season exceeded his expectations, but that it wasn’t a complete shock.
“It’s surprising, but it’s (also) not surprising,” Bumpus said, “just because I know how hard he worked and the passion he has for the game.
“He’s an example for Bearcats to come and guys around our community,” he added. “If you put in the work, you’re humble, you believe in yourself and you believe in your team, great things can happen.”