In the final entry on our four part series on the best running backs in Monroe history, we skip ahead forty years after Eldon King and Keith McDaniel to the modern era of Bearcat football. Since the 1970’s, Monroe football experienced years of success as well as hitting many low points in the seasons that followed. After struggling mightily in the 2000’s, the program began to rebuild itself during the 2010’s, sparking a new golden age of Monroe football. As the team was reaching new heights during this era, one player helped to lead the charge from 2014 to 2016, shattering school records as a running back. In Monroe football history, few players at any position have been as dominant or as feared as J.J. Jerome.
Rising from the Ashes
The rise of Bearcat football was a slow process, with the program essentially starting from rock bottom. In 2007, the Bearcats went 0-10, their third winless season of the decade. Though the team saw improvement in the following years, it was neither immediate nor consistent. From 2008 to 2013, Monroe won more than four games in a season only once. A six-win season in 2011 and a tie for the Wesco title in 2012 were the only bright spots as the program struggled to break out of its losing ways.
Even though the 2013 season ended with a forgettable 4-6 record, pieces of strong player core began to take root. On the freshman team, a running back was beginning to turn heads with his talent. A young J.J. Jerome flashed his potential, prompting Offensive Line Coach Scott Darrow to make any excuse to watch him play. Darrow, now the Head Coach at Monroe, recalled, “I’ve never had a freshman player be so fun to watch.” With players coming together, 2014 saw renewed optimism as Brett Jay took over as the head coach. Key players like Isaiah Cole, Jake Morrelli, and the brother duo of Andrew and Zach Zimmerman all burst onto the scene during 2014, but it was Jerome who stole the show.
Putting the League on Notice
In Jerome’s first year on the varsity team, he displayed great potential as only a sophomore. With Coach Jay installing a new spread offense, Jerome could thrive in an offensive that suited his explosive running. In the first game of the season against Oak Harbor, Jerome torched the Wildcats with 101-yards rushing. He continued his torrid pace throughout the season, helping the Bearcats average more than 30 points a game for the season. As Jerome started making an impact on the field, his ability to break off tackles drew comparisons to professional players. “It was really clear early he had a little Marshawn Lynch in him,” said Coach Darrow on Jerome’s running style. Though the Bearcats were knocked out of the state playoffs by Graham Kapowsin, the team still finished with an exceptional 7-3 record. Jerome finished with 1084 rushing yards, 401 receiving yards, and 22 total touchdowns, one of the best sophomore campaigns in program history. Even with a strong opening season, he was far from reaching his full potential.
A Cut above the competition
After a strong 2014 season, the Bearcats carried a great deal of excitement heading into 2015 as a new head coach took over the reins. With Brett Jay departing, Michael Bumpus took over the program and provided an instant boost for the team with his fun coaching style. As key players continued to grow even more talented, the offense took the team to greater heights. Led by Jerome and the rest of the Monroe offensive corps, the Bearcats scored at least 40 points a game five times during the season. Jerome showed improvement, finishing the season with 1,348 rushing yards and 22 total touchdowns.
Along with putting up impressive numbers, J.J. flashed some of his game-changing talent. During a 55-0 blowout of Snohomish, Jerome rushed for 238-yards and set a school record with six rushing touchdowns in a game. With a burgeoning group of wide receivers breaking out during the season, Jerome was relied upon more to run the ball rather than catch. Aside from contributing on offense, J.J. was showing his talent on defense. Playing as a linebacker, he finished the season with 41 tackles, taking his place in a hard-hitting defense. Though the team finished with an identical 7-3 record to 2014, the 2015 squad was a more complete team. Despite being defeated by Skyview in the playoffs, Monroe had much to look forward to in 2016. Key players remained to keep the team competitive but it would be J.J. Jerome that would make them into an elite team in his last season.
A Season for the ages
With expectations sky high for the 2016, Jerome and the Bearcats exceeded all hopes with one of the finest seasons in program history. Now fully grown at 6’0” and 220 lbs, Jerome possessed speed and power, a potent combination that allowed him to run through Wesco defenders with ease. Because of his physique and wild running style, as well as his long hair that came out of his helmet, teammates and opponents dubbed him “Tarzan.” After putting up two 100-yard rushing performances to start the season, Jerome broke out against Kamiak by rushing for 246 yards, including a school record 96-yard touchdown run. In addition to his running ability, Jerome displayed his pass-catching skills against Cascade by having 100 rushing and 100 receiving yards along with 4 total touchdowns.
Two weeks later, he put on the single greatest rushing performance of his career and in school history against Mariner. The Mariner defense was gashed by long runs throughout the game as Jerome ran for 363-yards, scoring five rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in the greatest single-game performance ever by a Bearcat. He continued to dominate the Wesco conference, following up his act against Mariner by rushing for 279-yards and 219-yards against Mount Vernon and Jackson, respectively. Jerome simply overpowered his opponents, demonstrated best when he delivered a vicious stiff-arm to a hapless Jackson defender.
After eight games, the Bearcats were undefeated and possessed a record setting offense that scored more than 50 points in six of the victories. Jerome was the most dangerous player on a fearsome offense that was loaded with talent from top to bottom. Using great vision and cutting back to extend runs, Jerome was explosive but could give his coaches fits with his exploits. “You tell him to run left and then he goes right for 70 yards,” reminisced former Monroe Running Back’s Coach Shane Zey when describing Jerome’s tendencies during runs. This amazing start to the season was also powered by a stellar defense that was helped by two Jeromes. As J.J. ranked near the top of the team with 52 tackles, his equally talented younger brother, Josh, was part of a relentless defense line that shredded opponents.
Despite the success, the Monroe offense was tamed by Lake Stevens in a 42-3 rout, with Jerome being held to 35 rushing yards. Nevertheless, the Bearcats regrouped the next week for a qualifying playoff game against Auburn Riverside. Jerome returned to form, keying the victory by running for 216-yards and three touchdowns as Monroe advanced to the state playoffs for the first time since 1991. In the playoffs, the Bearcats matched up against a powerful Sumner team. With state title hopes in mind, Monroe quickly took the early lead and held it until the 4th quarter. After some costly Monroe mistakes, Sumner took the lead and never relinquished, defeating the Bearcats 58-42. In his final game, Jerome played well as he picked up 157 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Despite missing out on a state title, Jerome’s senior season was arguably the greatest in Monroe history.
The statistics on Jerome’s senior year and career as a whole can only be described as “video-game numbers.” On 200 carries, he had 2,050 rushing yards, averaging an astounding 10.2 yards per carry. This average was bolstered by the fact many of Jerome’s touchdown runs were long. Coach Shane Zey stated that, “Of his 27 touchdowns, 15 of them had to be 70-yard runs.” Running for over 100-yards in all but one game, Jerome scored 27 rushing touchdowns. On the receiving side, he added another 335 receiving yards and four touchdowns, setting a school record with 31 touchdowns in a single season. While Isaiah Lewis broke some of his records the following year, many of the Monroe football records are safely held by J.J. Jerome. These include total career carries, career rushing years with 4,468, and touchdowns in a career with 75. Though the future for Monroe is bright, it is unlikely a player in the future can match Jerome’s dominance and durability during his three-year run.
After a brief stint playing at St. Thomas More High School in Connecticut, J.J. Jerome joined the University of New Hampshire Wildcats football team in 2018. He saw some playing time in 2019 as a linebacker, but could potentially see action at running back in the future. Though it is unclear what the future holds for J.J. Jerome, his impact on Monroe football is evident. Aside from rewriting the Monroe record books, his years at running back helped revitalize the program. Rising from years of mediocrity, the Bearcats became one of best teams in the Wesco conference. This feat was not accomplished by a single player, as the whole team worked together to achieve this change. During Jerome’s career at Monroe, he was backed by an outstanding offensive line, a deep wide receiving corps, and talented quarterbacks. With this talent, Monroe was a team to be respected by its opponents. But with the presence with J.J. Jerome in the Bearcat backfield, Monroe became a team to be feared as it had been during its golden age.
Acknowledgements and Sources
Special thanks to Anna Wegenast Photography and Striped Hat Photography (who was also the photographer for the Jackson stiff-arm sequence) for allowing their pictures of the Monroe Bearcats to be featured on the site. Their generosity and helpfulness helps greatly to add life to this article and on the site as a whole. We highly encourage visiting their pages to check out their work and supporting local photographers.
We also wish to thank Coach Scott Darrow and Coach Shane Zey for sharing statistics and their recollections on Jerome’s time as a Bearcat, they provided great insights that added a personal element to the story.
Statistics on parts of Jerome’s career can be found on MaxPreps.