The Bearcats made it to the state quarterfinals last season for the first time. Despite heavy losses to graduation, Monroe's expectations remain high.

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For the past several seasons, expectations have been high for Monroe’s football team. Since taking over as coach in 2015, former Washington State and Seahawks wide receiver Michael Bumpus has helped turn the Bearcats program around.

High-school kickoff 2018

Each year Monroe has improved, culminating in a trip to the Class 4A state quarterfinals last season. Though the Bearcats lost that game to Sumner, it was the highest finish for the football program in school history.

This year, expectations, at least from outsiders, aren’t as high. The Bearcats graduated over 80 percent of their players on both sides of the ball, leading many to believe this will be a rebuilding year.

Bumpus has other ideas.

“Every year our expectation is to win league; that’s goal No. 1,” Bumpus said. “Goal No. 2 is to just come out and start strong. We have a tougher preseason schedule this year, so we’re looking forward to that. Really, it’s just to finish as high as we can in WesCo and, just like with most teams, getting into the playoffs healthy, and then we’ll roll the dice and see what happens after that.”

Making it to the quarterfinals last season was a big step for the program, but Bumpus doesn’t want his team to be satisfied. It’s part of the culture change the program has gone through in the past several seasons.

“Now we just have higher expectations,” Bumpus said. “We know that we’re capable of doing things that people never thought Monroe was capable of doing before, so it’s just trying to make that part of our identity. If we go deep into the playoffs, it’s not a surprise. It’s what we expect to do.”

Bumpus and his coaching staff knew that graduation would leave a mark, but they had a plan to assure continued success.

“That’s where your freshman coaches, your JV coaches and your youth coaches really come in handy,” Bumpus said. “It’s up to them to develop these guys to get ready. We knew we were losing a lot of guys, but we also knew that we were preparing our JVs and our freshman for this moment.

“We’ll win a couple of games this year,” Bumpus added with a smile. “I know people aren’t picking us to do much. We’ll focus on Eastlake and see what happens after that.”

If the Bearcats are to find success again this season, it will have a lot to do with junior wide receiver Efton Chism III and junior running back Blake Rybar.

“(Efton) is probably the best receiver in WesCo and one of the top 10, I would say, in the state,” Bumpus said. “Our running back, Blake Rybar, he went out with a shoulder injury last year. I definitely think if we had him, we’d still be in the fight against Sumner. Those are the two guys that I’m depending on the most.”

Chism and Rybar know that they have the responsibility to bring the young players along quickly.

“We’re the leaders of the team, so everybody is going to look up to us and watch how we practice, how we are in the film room and on the field,” Chism said. “They are all just going to be watching him and I and some of the older seniors.”

Just as the older players before set the example for Chism and Rybar.

“We had the pleasure of being a part of a team that made history here at Monroe High School,” Rybar said. “We’ve got to learn from (the older players), watch how they grew and watch how they played. It’s our job to lead the team (now), and maintain that culture.”

WesCo 4A

Five teams to watch

Lake Stevens: Since the WesCo 4A merged into one division in 2014, the Vikings are 28-0 in league play.

Mariner: The Marauders are always in the playoff hunt with Mark Stewart as coach.

Cascade: After winning just one league game in 2016, the Bruins tripled their league win total a year ago, finishing 3-4 in the WesCo 4A and 5-5 overall. It’s worth watching to see if the upward climb continues under first-year coach and alum Jordan Sieh.

Glacier Peak: With senior quarterback Ayden Ziomas behind center, the Grizzlies are a threat to win their first WesCo 4A championship since moving up from 3A before the 2016 season.

Kamiak: For the first time in 20 seasons, Kamiak will have a new coach on the sidelines. Bryant Thomas takes over for Dan Mack, who resigned in January, and will be looking to re-energize the Knights, who failed to win a league game a season ago.

Five players to watch

Ayden Ziomas, Glacier Peak, Sr., QB/FS
Ziomas established himself as the top quarterback in the league last season, passing for 2,446 yards, 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Evan Mannes, Glacier Peak, Sr., WR/TE/MLB
Mannes was one of Ziomas’ favorite targets last season, finishing with 31 catches for 552 yards and eight touchdowns.

Tre’ Long, Lake Stevens, Sr., QB/OLB
Long, a former wide receiver, was forced into quarterbacking duties last season when starter Conor Bardue went down with a broken hand. Long led the Vikings to a playoff victory, completing 44 of 68 passes for 694 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception in his two starts.

Efton Chism, Monroe, Jr., WR/DB
Chism helped lead the Bearcats to their best finish in school history last season, finishing with 58 catches for 915 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Seth Tercero, Mount Vernon, Sr., RB/OLB
Tercero was a workhorse for the Bulldogs last season, finishing with 1,007 yards on 206 carries and scoring six rushing touchdowns. He averaged just under 5 yards per carry and just over 100 rushing yards per game.