Monroe senior J.R. Little runs through a drill during practice Wednesday at Monroe High School. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Monroe senior J.R. Little runs through a drill during practice Wednesday at Monroe High School. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Prep football: Monroe eyeing bounceback season

After suffering growing pains last season, the Bearcats are ready to reclaim their spot in Wesco 4A.

MONROE — The Monroe High School football team faced a difficult task last season.

Not only were last year’s young and inexperienced Bearcats tasked with replacing a slew of graduated talent, but they also were following in the shadow of two all-time great Monroe teams. The Bearcats’ 2016 squad reached the state playoffs for the first time in a quarter-century, and their historic 2017 team earned the program’s first-ever state quarterfinal berth.

Some growing pains were to be expected last year, and Monroe certainly had its share. Facing an arduous schedule, the Bearcats finished 4-6 for their first losing season since 2013.

“We definitely had a lot of juniors (last year) who hadn’t played on a Friday night, and they followed one of the best teams this school has ever had,” fifth-year Monroe coach Michael Bumpus said. “… And when you lose a couple guys (to injuries) and you have that youth, you’re going to go through some hard times. But in the end, I think it was good for us.”

After taking their lumps last year and returning the vast majority of their roster, the Bearcats are eyeing a bounceback season.

“This is a resilient group,” Bumpus said. “This is Monroe. This isn’t a destination town, so we’re used to having to dig ourselves out of holes and bounce back. And if we stay healthy, I think we’ll be able to do that.”

Monroe’s hopes begin with a potentially explosive offense that returns plenty of key pieces. Even with last year’s youth and inexperience, the Bearcats averaged 39.6 points per game in Wesco 4A play — just 1.1 points fewer than conference runner-up Glacier Peak.

“I always tell my defensive coordinator, ‘Man, if you can hold (the opponent) to 30, we’ve got a chance,’” said Bumpus, who also is Monroe’s offensive coordinator. “I feel like it’s tough to hold us down, especially when we have talent (at receiver) on the outside.”

Eastern Washington-bound senior Efton Chism III caught 12 touchdown passes last season for the Bearcats. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Eastern Washington-bound senior Efton Chism III caught 12 touchdown passes last season for the Bearcats. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Bearcats’ talented group of wideouts is led by Eastern Washington University-bound senior Efton Chism III, who totaled 771 yards receiving and 12 touchdown catches last season. The 5-foot-11 all-purpose standout also excels on defense and special teams, where he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

“He’s the best route-runner in the state,” said Bumpus, a former Washington State University star and Seattle Seahawks receiver. “If he was 6-1, he’d have Pac-12 offers all day.”

Also back is junior Trey Lane, who was the Bearcats’ second-leading receiver last year with 555 yards and six touchdowns.

And poised for a potential breakout season is senior J.R. Little, who is listed as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com. Little didn’t post big numbers last year, but Bumpus said he expects the 6-foot-2 wideout and team’s “smoothest receiver” to make some noise this fall.

“This is probably the best receiving corps that I’ve coached while I’ve been here,” Bumpus said.

Throwing to the talented group of wideouts is senior Gio Fregoso, who returns for his second season as starting quarterback. Last year, the lefty completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,000 yards. He threw 20 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

After completing nearly 70 percent of his passes last season, senior Gio Fregoso returns for his second season as Monroe’s starting quarterback. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

After completing nearly 70 percent of his passes last season, senior Gio Fregoso returns for his second season as Monroe’s starting quarterback. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Bearcats also figure to benefit from the return of senior offensive linemen Gavin Monroe and Casey Lynch, who both suffered season-ending injuries in the first two games of last year. Their return should provide a significant boost for what’s shaping up to be a massive group up front.

“We’ll be one of the biggest lines in the league and the state,” Bumpus said.

On defense, two-way standout linebacker Blake Rybar leads a unit that’s looking to rebound after struggling last season against quality opponents. In its six games against teams with winning records, Monroe allowed an average of 44.7 points per contest.

Bumpus said new defensive coordinator Zach Nelson — who was the defensive backs coach at Glacier Peak last year — has focused on fundamentals.

“That’s what I love about coach Nelson,” Bumpus said. “He’s really just about the fundamentals and technique. If your foundation is fundamentals and technique, when it comes to scheme, you’ll automatically be able to do it, because your foundation is so strong. And that’s kind of been the emphasis of our offseason.”

Monroe once again faces a challenging schedule, including four state-playoff teams from last year. The Bearcats hit the ground running with non-league matchups against KingCo 4A powers Eastlake and Woodinville — both state-playoff teams last season — before opening conference play in Week 3 against six-time defending Wesco 4A champion and reigning 4A state runner-up Lake Stevens.

“I feel like that’s going to be huge for us, because that’s going to set the tone,” Chism III said. “Those are (three) of the best teams in the state. … It’s going to make us better overall as a team.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Former Washington football coach Jim Lambright dies at 77

He spent nearly four decades with the Husky program as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

In this Feb. 21, 2001, file photo, Seattle Mariners’ manager Lou Piniella puts his arm around Japanese player Ichiro Suzuki as workouts begin at their spring training camp in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
POLL: Which Mariners season generates the best memories?

With the start of baseball season delayed, we conjure up positives from past Seattle seasons.

A shining moment in UW history is often forgotten

10 years later, Quincy Pondexter’s game-winner against Marquette in the NCAA tournament is lost in time.

Analysis: Seahawks have added depth to 2020 offensive line

Taking a look at all the o-linemen signed for next season and where they might fit on Seattle’s roster.

She’s 101 and bowled a 159 before coronavirus shut the lanes

Carol Perry can’t celebrate her 102nd birthday bowling Tuesday. But maybe her kids will get her a Wii.

Opening day comes and goes with no baseball

M’s fans, and employees, are left with a feeling of emptiness as the country battles a pandemic.

Edmonds-Woodway grad Hardy has Tommy John surgery

The relief pitcher, who signed with the Twins in the offseason, is expected to miss the 2020 season.

Indianapolis 500 postponed until August because of COVID-19

The historic IndyCar race won’t run on Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1946.

Storm’s Bird still plans to compete in 2021 Olympics

The WNBA legend, who turns 40 in October, still plans to play despite the Games being delayed.

Silvertips sign forward prospect Ben Hemmerling

The 2004-born forward was Everett’s third-round pick in the 2019 WHL bantam draft.

Wichita State’s Stevenson transferring to Washington

The shooting guard, who starred at Timberline, averaged 11.1 points per game last season.

Locals named to Associated Press all-state teams

Two local players earned all-state nods and six others were honorable mentions.