In the third article on the greatest running backs in Monroe history, we’re bending the rules to include two star players from the early 1970’s. After experiencing a resurgence in the late 1960’s, Bearcat football was beginning another decline after Coach Dick Langum ended a highly successful coaching run. With Monroe sliding back into mediocrity, two talented running backs began their campaign to keep Bearcat football relevant. The dynamic running back duo of Eldon King and Keith McDaniel fueled the best seasons Monroe experienced for the next decade.
The Hope of A Declining Program
From 1966 to 1970, Dick Langum led the most successful run of Bearcat football in program history, finishing with records of 7-2 in all but one season and capturing a share of the Cascade Conference title in 1970. With Langum gone after 1970, the next Monroe coach, Ed Lucero, had great expectations to meet without great talent. In his first season at the helm, the Bearcats finished with a record of 1-9, their worst mark since 1959. Though the future of the team looked bleak, two players on the freshman team provided the lone bright spot for the program.
After showing promise on the junior high and freshman teams, Eldon King and Keith McDaniel were displaying great potential in the backfield before they reached the varsity level. The two made the team in 1972 as sophomores but barely had any playing time in their first season. Despite their potential, a crowded running back corps of five upperclassmen took snaps ahead of the young players. Only McDaniel saw consistent time on the field as a kicker, his successful extra point against Oak Harbor proved to be the difference in a 7-6 victory. Though Coach Lucero depended heavily on his five running backs, the Bearcats still ended 1972 with a lowly 3-7 record. As the year turned to 1973, Monroe looked to the younger players for a return to glory, an opening King and McDaniel eagerly took up.
Thunder and Lightning in the Backfield
The 1973 season got off to a solid start as King and McDaniel wasted little time putting the Cascade Conference on notice. In the first game against Anacortes, Keith McDaniel rushed for 101 yards as the Bearcats won the game 12-7. McDaniel keyed the victory in a highly anticipated matchup against Sultan, rushing for 176 yards and scoring both touchdowns in another close 12-6 win. The following week against Sedro-Woolley, King broke out with a huge performance as he led the team with 138 yards rushing in another Monroe triumph. King and McDaniel quickly put the league on notice with their outstanding play, proving to be a potent thunder and lightning combo.
Though both were running backs, their styles differed greatly as King was a bruising fullback and McDaniel was a swift, agile halfback. Both players backed up the solid quarterback play of senior Bill Stansberry as the Bearcats claimed a 6-1 record towards the end of the season. A particularly dominant stretch came against Marysville, Pilchuck, and Arlington in which King and McDaniel combined for over 200 yards in a game twice and three touchdowns against Arlington. Despite their run of dominance, the pair was shut down against Stanwood, losing 17-0 and costing Monroe a shot at the conference title. After this loss, King slowed down his pace as McDaniel carried the team the rest of the season in wins against Lake Stevens and Burlington-Edison. Tallying up his stats from the season, McDaniel led the team with 1,121 rushing yards and cemented his spot as the top running back on the team. With Stansberry gone, McDaniel was seen as the key player for 1974. As fate had it, the true strength of the team lay with more than one player.
Eldon King, The Unsung Hero
The 1974 campaign proved to be similar to 1973 as the Bearcats started the season with another dominant performance against Anacortes. Yet again, King and McDaniel led the way as both players ran for over 100 yards each in a 28-0 rout. Though it appeared Monroe was going to cruise the rest of the season, McDaniel suffered an injury during Anacortes matchup that would keep him out for the next two games. With the team’s star player sidelined, the season appeared lost as the Bearcats would have to do without their leading rusher. Nevertheless, Eldon King stepped up as the leader on offense and made sure the season was not over on his watch.
The next week against Sultan, King stole the show as he ran for 128 yards in a 20-8 beatdown of the old rivals. Against Sedro-Woolley the following week, King rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown in another victory. Though McDaniel returned the next week against Lake Stevens, he only played in a limited role during the game. In a tight defensive struggle, King once again led the offense in rushing and carries as he scored the only touchdown in a 6-2 thriller. Monroe’s undefeated streak ended against Marysville, but King continued to show his skill as the leading rusher in a 19-8 defeat. Though the Bearcats appeared dead in the water after McDaniel’s injury, Eldon King’s gutsy performances in his stead kept Monroe’s title hopes alive.
After the Marysville loss, Keith McDaniel was at last ready to take control of the running back corps. With McDaniel at full health, it was his turn to capture the spotlight against Pilchuck and Arlington. Facing Pilchuck, the speedy McDaniel rushed for 162 yards and a couple touchdowns in a 22-14 victory. The best performance of his career came the next week as McDaniel ran for 231 yards in a beatdown of Arlington as Monroe once again stood at 6-1 near the end of the season. Like the year before, disaster came in the form of Stanwood as the Bearcats were shutout, losing another chance at the conference title. With the title hopes gone, the Bearcats still had meaningful football left in the season as they traveled to Lake Stevens for their second rivalry matchup of the season. Against their hated rivals, King and McDaniel led Monroe to a 36-6 dismantling of the Vikings. For only the second time in program history, Monroe had beaten their nemesis twice in a single season. The season came to an end against Burlington-Edison as the Bearcats pulled out a 8-6 victory to close out another 8-2 record.
With the era of Eldon King and Keith McDaniel over, Monroe immediately declined the following season. Falling from 8-2, the Bearcats posted a 1-9 record and had only two winning seasons until 1986. Even with some success, the Bearcats did not reach the highs experienced with King and McDaniel in the backfield for many seasons. It took until Coach Kurt Nowadnick spurred a Bearcat football renaissance in the mid-1980’s that Monroe became a successful program, more than a decade after the departure of King and McDaniel.
Though King and McDaniel were assisted by a stellar defense and quarterback, their dominance as running backs elevated a program on the decline into a powerhouse as they terrorized opposing teams. Their solid one-two punch in the backfield was unlike any seen in program history and one player cannot be mentioned without the other. Though McDaniel may have been the more talented running back, King’s performances during his injury show that King was more than capable of carrying the team on his own. The tandem of Eldon King and Keith McDaniel stands apart as not only as an example of two of the best running backs in team history, but perhaps the greatest duo in Monroe football history.
All sources for this article were found in the Monroe Monitor from 1970 to 1974.