13 Dec 18
The Mercury News
When Liberty takes on Sierra Canyon-Chatsworth for the CIF Division 1-A state football title Saturday night at Cerritos College in Norwalk, the Lions will certainly be out of their league in one department.
Make that two departments: Star power and priciness.
Sierra Canyon is a private school that, according to its own web site, charges $36,250 per year for grades nine through 12.
There are some well-heeled alums as well, including the off-spring of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Jada and Will Smith, Caitlyn (previously Bruce) Jenner, and Jamie Foxx.
Athletically, Sierra Canyon is known more for basketball than football. Last season’s squad included the sons of former NBA players Scottie Pippen, Kenyon Martin, Duane Washington and Tellis Frank. A story last February in the Los Angeles Times said the school sets aside 15 spots under its baskets for media outlets to show up and shoot videos — not of the players, but of their famous parents.
Liberty was once a basketball school, too, under coach Jerry Miller. It has also excelled at times in baseball. The wrestling program is second to none.
Football excellence? Not so much. The Lions won seven league titles in eight years from 1948-55 but didn’t capture a playoff game until beating Amador Valley in 2014. Liberty has been around since 1902.
Now, the Lions are a powerhouse under second-year coach Ryan Partridge. They stormed to the North Coast Section Division I title last year, beating Freedom 37-0 in the championship game en route to an 11-2 campaign. This season the Lions (12-1) suffered their only defeat to De La Salle.
Does Liberty have staying power?
It appears so. Liberty has a number of players returning in 2019, including Jay Butterfield, the top-rated quarterback in Northern California in the 2020 class, according to 247sports.com.
“We have a lot of good kids,” Partridge said. “Our freshman class is really good. They went 9-1 this year. Lost a tight one to De La Salle.”
Sixty-four players turned out for the freshmen team. A lot of high schools don’t have that many players in their entire program. It has caused many athletic departments to consider eliminating — many already have — the junior varsity and turn to a frosh-soph team to supplement the varsity.
Partridge said he would need two frosh-soph teams if there was no junior varsity at Liberty.
While Partridge, 34, is one of the bright, young coaches in the Bay Area, it was previous coach Jeff Walters who began to turn things around at Liberty after the school went 14-54-2 from 2006-2012. Walters was 22-21 in his four seasons before leaving for Del Oro High, his alma mater.
Liberty coach Ryan Partridge and his players celebrate their 33-21 win over Valley Christian in their CIF Northern California Division I-A championship football game. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
Partridge wasted no time in taking the Lions to the next level. He has an excellent staff, with the most recognizable being former 49er Jeremy Newberry and one-time Stanford quarterback Mark Butterfield, who is Jay’s father. Newberry and Butterfield both played at Antioch High.
“Things changed when Coach Partridge got here,” senior running back Tyerell Sturges-Cofer said. “The previous coaches left out of the blue and we didn’t know what to expect.”
Liberty’s fast-rising pedigree in the high school football ranks is a source of pride to Sturges-Cofer, who has been on the varsity for three years.
“This school has been here for so long,” he said. :”We want to show people that Liberty is a good school, that kids should come here instead of Pittsburg, De La Salle and Freedom.”
Sturges-Cofer and linebacker Nicky Einess, who led Liberty with 108 tackles, came up through the youth leagues that feed Liberty and the other Bay Valley Athletic League schools.
Einess has been the face of the Lions’ defense for two years. He got his feet wet playing for the Delta Patriots and Delta Falcons, where his teams won a combined eight championships, he said proudly. Those programs built the foundation for the player the 5-9, 170-pound senior has become.
Einess, however, will miss the Sierra Canyon game because of a concussion he suffered against Valley Christian. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance but was released that night. He returned to school on Tuesday.
He will be on the sideline Saturday night, hurting more mentally than physically.
“It’s hard to think about,” Einess said of missing the championship game. “It will be rough for me. It’s my last game.”
While having Einess would make things easier, Liberty should be fine.
On offense, Sione Vaki is a three-star recruit who could wind up at receiver or in the secondary in college. He has offers from USC, Tennessee, Utah and Oklahoma State, among others. He is planning to do his two-year Mormon mission before enrolling.
Vaki is complemented at receiver by Jerrin Easter-Williams and Adrik Lamar. They made life miserable for Valley Christian in last week’s CIF NorCal regional championship, as Butterfield passed for 337 yards and three touchdowns in Liberty’s 33-21 win.
Sturges-Cofer has rushed for 1,343 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he has two juniors backing him up in Brenden Bell and Darrion Bartley, who have rushed for a combined 712 yards and eight touchdowns.
Liberty’s defense doesn’t get as much “pub” as the offense, but only De La Salle has scored more than 21 points against the Lions this season.
“People talk about our offense,” Partridge said. “But it’s our defense that does it.”
Sierra Canyon (12-3) starts seven sophomores and a freshman. It has played the entire season without running back/cornerback Corey Jones, who has missed the entire season with an injury.
But sophomore quarterback Chayden Peery has passed for 2,805 yards and 18 touchdowns. Senior EJ Gable is the team’s leading rusher with 1,520 yards and 23 touchdowns, but his backups are a pair of juniors and a sophomore. The team’s leading receiver is sophomore D.J. Harvey, and its leading tacklers are a junior and two sophomores.
They beat a star-studded Upland team, 7-3, to advance.
The Trailblazers play in the Southern Section’s Gold Coast League, but their only league game was against Paraclete-Lancaster, which they won 49-14.
“We’re kind of an independent,” coach Jon Ellinghouse said. “We play Paraclete, but the other schools elect not to play us. We’ve had success against some of those teams. I don’t necessarily agree with what they are doing, but at the same time we are able to schedule games against some great programs.”
Ellinghouse said Sierra Canyon has been to a state title game twice before, most recently in 2016 when it beat Serra 42-40 to complete a 16-0 season.
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