Liberty Lions championship football rings

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Reese Watkins-Nelson, Isaiah Dortch and Ethan Slaughter show off their championship rings Harvest Park Bowl in Brentwood, Saturday, May 11.

As the Liberty High School football team gathered at Harvest Park Bowl last week, many members couldn’t help but look down for long periods of time.

It was for good reason. Their eyes were fixated on the sparkling new state championship rings gracing their fingers.

The Lions, 2018 California Interscholastic Federation Division 1A state champions, picked up their commemorative jewelry last week — five months after winning the team’s first state title in its 116-year history.

“I’m amazed,” said senior Reese Watkins-Nelson moments after receiving his ring. “I saw the size of it and was like ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s way bigger than the NCS championship ring. It’s beautiful, it’s absolutely amazing.”

Harvest Park Bowl owner Jim Wangeman and longtime Knightsen resident Andy Dreifort paid the estimated $15,000 for the glistening gold mementos, inscribed on the front with the squad’s logo situated prominently over an outline of California, and encircled by the words “State Champions.”

“We had just watched them win the state championship, and I looked at Andy and said, ‘That school is 100 years old and they have never won a state football championship,’” Wangeman recalled Saturday. “I said, ‘Let’s buy them rings.’ He said, ‘OK.’”

Liberty head coach  Ryan Partridge, who admitted that he had snuck a peak at the rings when they arrived earlier in the week, said he consulted with a couple of the team’s captains on the ring design.

The group settled on gold, since their similar 2017 North Coast Section Championship jewelry was silver, and Partridge snuck a corn cob into the design, representing the team’s signature saying, “Corn country travels well,” which pays homage to the season-long fans that cheered the squad to victory.

“I was just blown away (when I first saw them),” Partridge said. “To see ‘State Champions’ on a ring. You only dream of that. It’s a surreal experience.”

Many other players agreed, vividly remembering the team’s scintillating season months ago.

The Lions roared to an undefeated 10-0 regular season and 13-1 overall mark — outscoring their opponents 557-195 — their only loss coming to national powerhouse De La Salle in the North Coast Section championship game.

Liberty bounced back from that December defeat with a 33-21 win over Valley Christian and then a magical come-from-behind 19-17 win over Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) in the state title game.

“We said it the whole time, that we were going to make it to the state championship,” McKey remembered Saturday, his eyes still glued to his ring. “We made that our only goal. I think by doing that, by focusing and working hard, we were actually able to make it happen.”

While the squad basked in the figurative glory that only a state championship season can provide, Partridge was quick to point out that opportunity awaits — the Lions began spring ball on Tuesday.

“I want (the rings) to say ‘Back-to-Back Champions’ after next season,” Partridge said with a smile.