MONROE — The moment it happened, Isaiah Cole knew it was bad.
The Monroe football star was competing in a 7-on-7 tournament in Las Vegas this past February when one false step put his senior season in jeopardy.
“I was running an out route, planted wrong and just felt two pops and a whole bunch of pain,” Cole said.
“I knew right away,” he added. “I was like, ‘I did it again.’ I was crushed.”
Cole is no stranger to football injuries, having suffered a broken arm during his seventh-grade season and a torn ACL in his right knee the following year.
This time, it was his left knee. The diagnosis was a torn ACL, strained MCL and partially torn meniscus.
“I was like, ‘I have to go through this again?’” Cole said. “It was frustrating.”
Facing another round of adversity, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound standout drew on his previous battles back from injury.
“I just knew that I did it twice before — I could do it again,” he said.
One week after undergoing surgery, Cole began physical therapy and the road to recovery. Every day, he’s been riding a stationary bicycle that his mother and grandmother bought to help him regain strength.
And after watching his fourth-ranked Bearcats (8-0 overall, 6-0 Wesco 4A) from the sidelines for the first four games of the season, Cole returned to action and picked up right where he left off last year — as one of the area’s most dynamic all-around players.
In the four games since his return, Cole has 18 receptions for 382 yards and four touchdowns, including a school-record 206 yards receiving and two touchdowns against Mount Vernon two weeks ago.
Cole also returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown in his first game back against Glacier Peak.
“I’m just so glad to be back,” he said.
At receiver, Cole is a polished route-runner and sure-handed pass-catcher who has ankle-breaking elusiveness and the speed to burst by defensive backs.
Cole led Monroe in receiving each of the past two seasons, posting 668 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015, followed by 839 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior last year.
“He’s a little guy, but he plays big,” said Bearcats coach Michael Bumpus, a former standout Washington State University receiver who briefly played for the Seattle Seahawks. “There’s not too many guys who can play inside and outside and go over the top and across the middle.
“He just does pretty much everything you ask a receiver to be able to do.”
Bumpus said Cole excels at reading defenses, whether that’s finding the soft spot in a zone or knowing how to attack defenders in man-to-man coverage.
“He does a great job of finding holes in the defenses and sitting down in space,” Bumpus said. “A lot of guys at this level will pass by a hole and force a (quarterback) to make a tough throw. But he has a real knack for understanding the defense and finding space.
“I’ve seen him really learn how to attack leverages on defenders (and) set them up,” Bumpus added. “He’s just really sharp. Every year, he’s gotten sharper and sharper in his route-running and understanding what he’s seeing.”
Bumpus said Cole’s receiver skills translate to defensive back, where the two-way standout has four career interceptions.
“He can identify route combinations and anticipate where the (quarterback) is going with the ball,” Bumpus said. “He just flies around. When that ball’s in the air, if it’s up there too long, he’ll make a play on defense.”
Cole also is an electric returner who has seven career special-teams returns for touchdowns.
Last season, he had two punt-return scores and two kickoff-return scores. That included a jaw-dropping punt-return touchdown against Meadowdale when Cole briefly reversed field, then cut back, eluded several defenders and dragged another before spinning out of a tackle and breaking free.
“I think he’s — if not the best — one of the best returners in our state,” Bumpus said. “He does a great job of setting up his blocks.
“It takes a special kid, especially on punt returns. You have to have great vision. You’re going to have to make four or five guys miss before you break that second and third wave and make a run at it. And he’s done a great job of that.”
In an effort to ease him back from injury, Monroe hasn’t let Cole return any punts or kicks yet this season. But Bumpus said he plans to loosen the reins and allow Cole to play special teams again once the postseason begins.
As a standout on offense, defense and special teams, Cole is a difference-maker in all three phases of the game. He even demonstrated his throwing ability this season, tossing a 63-yard touchdown pass on a trick play against Mariner.
“When you have a kid who can make an impact on all three phases, it makes him special,” Bumpus said. “He’s the guy that you want on the field at all times. He does everything.
“It’s just a testament to his athleticism. The kid has to be an athlete and he has to understand the game to be able to play so many positions and have an impact on it. And as a coach, I’m just grateful to have a kid like that.”