Damon Wells is exiting the quiet little mountain town of Rifle, Colo., and entering a Midwestern city where all the happy people have stopped to say hello, even though the temperature's low.
"I felt welcomed and I felt wanted," said Wells, who was announced Tuesday as the head football coach and activities director at Jefferson City. "I just hope I feel welcomed and wanted after we play some games."
The Rifle Bears never finished worse than 6-5 in Wells' 13 seasons and two stints as head coach.
Rifle reached the Class 3A state championship game in Wells' first season as head coach in 2005 and reached two more state title games during his second term.
The Bears dropped to 2A in 2018, going 19-3 in the next two seasons. Wells decided to resign a second time — the first coming in 2008 — this winter.
"I just think there's a season for everything in life," Wells said. " Every now and then there's time for a change."
Wells is hoping to change the fortunes of a historically winning football program that's hired three head coaches since Ted LePage's final season with the Jays in 2017.
Jefferson City has accumulated nine wins in the past three seasons, with Terry Walker coaching in 2018 and 2019 and Scott Bailey being in charge in 2020.
"A man that I respect a great deal told me that if you constantly live in the past you're bound to be depressed," Wells said, "and if you constantly live in the future you're bound to get anxiety. ... It sure seems like coach Bailey and coach Walker were great guys. I don't know about their particular situation. Different kids, different people, so I hope things work out well and I'm going to work like a dog to try to ensure that they do. And I'm sure those guys did as well."
A colleague notified Wells of the opening in Jefferson City early last month and got the same message from someone else. He figured he should look into it.
When Wells arrived in Mid-Missouri to interview for the job, the future co-workers, facilities and the school itself left a positive impression.
Prior to the visit, Wells did some research on the Jays before heading nearly 1,000 miles east.
"There's no shortage of information and opinions, that's for sure," Wells said. "I was able to figure out some of those things and I was pretty candid in asking questions about where some of it might be coming from. I certainly don't want me and my family in a situation that we don't want to be in."
Wells has already had phone conversations and exchanged texts and emails with some of the players he'll be coaching once he makes the move.
Wells said he's eager to learn the players' stories and do all he can to make a positive impact in their lives.
"The more the conversation is about kids the better things are," he said. " I can't wait to be around the kids because they're the constant."
The 1989 graduate of Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers, Fla., and 1993 graduate of Florida State was an assistant high school football coach in Florida for four years before becoming an assistant coach at Rifle in 2000.
The Bears won the 2A state title in 2004 when Wells was the defensive coordinator.
"I'm not one to jump around and look for the next biggest, best job," Wells said. "I wouldn't be moving to Jefferson City with my family if I didn't have hope that it's going to be a great situation and we'll be welcomed and I can contribute to the lives of kids in the community."
So far, he's been welcomed and looks forward to the work ahead.
"I know that you can't build a football team in a month or two," Wells said. "There's a lot of hard work that goes into it."