Ryan Mackley and Jeremy O'Donnell used to design plays for the Bears football team.
Now, they've traded the sidelines for the business world, where they are coaching local businesses in creative media, website and photography needs.
The Third Street Studio Creative Group, open since August 2011, is in a chic new office at 103 E. Third St.
O'Donnell and Mackley share the downtown space, which they hope to build into a hub for creative multimedia services. O'Donnell's professional photography studio, O'Donnell Portrait, and Mackley's creative design company, Spruce Creek Multimedia, both operate from the downtown office.
The two met while coaching the Rifle High School Bears football team. Mackley was the district's technology coordinator, and O'Donnell taught art, pottery and photography. Together, they started shooting sports videos of game highlights for college-bound players.
"Shooting sports video is still one my favorite things to do," Mackley said. "Jeremy taught me the importance and value of good photography. He'd take me out and show me a lot, so we kind of learned from each other."
Sharing a passion for the creative, the two wondered about the potential for pooling their media skills and running their own business.
Mackley, a Rifle native and RHS grad, was already running Spruce Creek Multimedia on the side while working for the school district. In 2008, he left the district to run his media company full time.
"It was hard when I went to full time," Mackley said. "There weren't a whole lot of web design companies on the Western Slope, so it felt like no one was ready for it," he said.
Over time, Mackley picked up web design and multimedia work for regional businesses.
"I think a lot of younger people are moving in to the area, where that kind of digital business marketing is the expectation, so the clientele is changing," he said. "I'm busier now that I've ever been."
O'Donnell and his wife had moved to Rifle from Luverne, Minn., in 2005 for teaching jobs. In 2011, O'Donnell left his teaching job and joined the creative business venture, well aware of the challenges and wisdom Mackley gained in the early stages.
"I learned something every day while I was teaching, and I'm learning something every day in this business, too," O'Donnell said. "It's really exciting to do what you've always wanted to do. Rarely in teaching did I get to make something for myself."
O'Donnell specializes in senior portraits, and his summer is nearly booked up with wedding photography.
Running a business is a lot different from teaching art to a classroom full of students, he noted.
"There are so many things you have to think about on the business end," he said. "Paying bills and things on the operations side, it's a lot to keep track of and keep up with."
In their first year as a joint business, Third Street Studio Creative Group has hosted art and photography classes for the community - something they would like to do more of.
"In the future, we'd love to become a community center for all things art," O'Donnell said. "I'd like to offer more classes and host drawing and photography seminars."
The company's growth plan is to add a marketing or graphic design expert so it can "offer the full spectrum of media," Mackley said.
Although they're no longer coaching or videotaping the Rifle Bears, Mackley and O'Donnell are glad to be part of Rifle's business and arts community.
"We've gotten a lot of support from family and friends to start this, which was a huge undertaking," Mackley said. "Rifle is changing, and we're just glad to be supported by the community."