Players, coaches and support staff of the Hinesville Hurricanes semi-pro football team feasted on pizza Wednesday night to celebrate the arrival of their Southeast American Football League conference championship rings.
The men earned the rings after posting a 13-1 season and beating the Anderson Red Dawgs 20-14 on Sept. 25.
The festivities, organized by Liberty Jewelers manager Charles E. Mincey, culminated with Hurricane players receiving their rings, which were handed out by coaches James Sharp and Michael Jones.
"First of all I want to thank Charles for letting us have this ring ceremony here at Liberty Jewelers," Sharp said. "This is where the rings came from and I hope you all enjoy what you are getting ready to get. After 10 years this is what we got. Nobody can take that away from you. I really appreciate you guys. And next year I hope we have a better year and go undefeated."
The Hinesville Hurricanes semi-pro team was founded in 1999 by Lamar and Sheri Hall and continues today under Sharp’s leadership.
The team is comprised of local players, ages 18 and older, who play during the summer against nine other conference teams from South Carolina and Georgia.
The Hurricanes are also community-oriented and have volunteered their time at local schools and events benefiting kids in Liberty County.
Standout running back Joseph Matavao, a graduate of Bradwell Institute, has been the backbone of the ’Canes offense and was responsible for 60 percent of their touchdowns in the 2010 season, according to team officials.
Matavao has been a Hurricane for five years and said the reality of the title hasn’t hit him yet.
"It probably won’t set in until I slide the ring on my finger," he said moments before getting his ring. "But it feels good to finally do it — not just for ourselves but for the coaches who have worked hard with us and, of course, for Mary Jo (Sharp). Man, she would have loved it."
Mary Jo Sharp was the "team mother" and cheerleader before passing away in 2007.
"She would probably be laughing and joking around with most of us now. There is nothing more she would have wanted than to see what is happening here tonight," James Sharp III, the team’s defensive captain and linebacker said of his mother. "Just to even think about that is a gift in itself."
The linebacker said the first thing that came to his mind was that the entire experience was unbelievable.
"It’s just one of those things that you think about it. You probably dream about it, but it never really hits you until it happens," he said. "We won the championship a few months ago but it has not sunk it yet. But to finally put the top on the bottle and seal the deal is something really special."
"She would say, ‘Jamie, we finally did it,’" Coach Sharp said. "‘To God be the glory,’ and I know she would say that. I know it’s been a rough one but she stuck with me the whole time and all of this right here. I can truly say she is dearly missed. But she is smiling right now and that is a good thing."
Jones offered his congratulations to his players and support staff, saying that it took everyone coming together to get as far as they did this season.
"One thing coach always told us is that it takes a team," Jones said. "We had a great season and we didn’t have any confrontations or folks fussing and fighting and doing the wrong things. And if one player was down, we had the next man on the side to pull you back up. I’m thankful."
Hurricanes quarterback Frank Troup received his ring and was named the team’s MVP. The former BI Tiger said the whole experience came full circle.
"It’s different. It really is different," he said. "Putting in all the work from the beginning and doing it until the end and then getting something in the end and seeing that you won something, you completed something."
Jones said it was satisfying to finally be recognized.
"Sometimes it doesn’t come as fast as we want it to but at the end of the rainbow we got the award and the trophy to show for it," he said. "Next year we are going to try and repeat."
Coach Sharp echoed his sentiment, saying they want to go 14-0 next season.
"I’m ready to go as long as we can," Matavao said. "Until the wheels fall off."
"We have to come in better than we did last year," Troup added. "Everyone thinks that winning your first one is just luck, but to go back-to-back, that’s different. And that’s our goal right now."