Reigning state champ Lions back on prowl

Liberty running back Brenden Bell, seen here last season, will be just one of a few talented running backs on the Lions roster this season.

In a historic football season, Brentwood’s Lions put Corn Country on the map by winning the 2018 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division 1A state championship.

After claiming the Bay Valley Athletic League (BVAL) and a CIF state regional title, Liberty’s season culminated in Norwalk, California, with a 19-17 victory over Southern California powerhouse Sierra Canyon. Now it’s safe to say that everyone in the North Coast Section (NCS) has their eyes locked in on Liberty. 

“I think it gives them more confidence,” said third-year head coach Ryan Partridge. “There is high expectations and we’re going to meet them head on. Right now, we’re worried about beating ourselves and getting better each day.”

Headlining the team is three-year varsity veteran Jay Butterfield. The senior announced his commitment to the University of Oregon during the spring and has the numbers to back up why he’s one of the most recruited pro-style quarterbacks in the nation.

Many of Liberty’s aerial threats graduated, but senior Cody Muth is one of Butterfield’s few returning targets. Muth caught Liberty’s only scoring play in its loss against De La Salle in the NCS Open Championship. 6-foot, 2-inch tight end Peyton Borelli will also be a threat for Liberty.

A pair of seniors is returning at running back with Brenden Bell and Darrion Bartley. Bell saw some carries last season behind former Lion Tyerell Sturges-Cofer. Both of these players have also lined up at receiver this offseason.

Bell and Bartley will have a pretty solid group to create lanes for them. Payton Zdroik moved over to center. He was awarded All-BVAL first-team honors on both sides of the ball last year. Akili Calhoun and Cel’mone Kennedy each made second team All-BVAL last season and will be factors in the Lions’ run game.

Many of these athletes will be two-way players. Calhoun recently started gaining offers from Pac-12 schools like Cal and Washington State, while Zdroik has reeled in offers from Cal Poly and Colorado State.

“They never have a bad practice,” Partridge said. “They’re all good.”

Mason Padilla anchors linebacker core. The senior stepped up big time in the state championship game with the absence of the 2017 defensive MVP Nicky Einess. Padilla recorded 15 tackles in that game. Senior Anthony Orgolio missed out last season with an injury, but has experience under his belt — starting in the NCS Division I championship game in 2017 versus Freedom.

Players will be battling for position in the secondary, with Bartley, Bell and Muth all seeing time on defense. Returning players like Josh Dinkins and Glenn Borlangan will also be competing for spots.

It’s no secret the Lions lost key pieces to last year’s team, but they have a solid core of young players along with some athletes who transferred to Liberty.

Justice Jackson transferred from Berean Christian and will strengthen Liberty’s offense. He has three Division I offers and Partridge plans on using him at running back and wide receiver. Jackson will need to sit out the first half of the season, however, due to the transfer rule. 

“He’s fast, physical and has a great knowledge of the game,” said Partridge. “He is one heck of a player.”

James McNorton is another transfer player, this time coming from Heritage. The 6-foot, 5-inch athlete can play both offensive and defensive lines. The University of Wyoming has expressed interest in him. 

Jermaine Land and Leo Reichold make up another pair of two-way players named by Partridge who will have an immediate impact on the new campaign. The open division is being eliminated after the CIF ruling preventing runners-up from going to any state tournaments – meaning the old format will return, in which all NCS teams play in their respective divisions. For everyone in the BVAL, a trip to that state championship now has to go through De La Salle in the NCS Division I championship. It’s an obstacle the Lions are ready to face.

Despite the Lions’ successful season, it was hard for them to find opponents in non-league play. They kickoff the season on the road against Vacaville and Oakdale.