Wells back in the saddle at Rifle | PostIndependent.com

Wells back in the saddle at Rifle

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent
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Damon Wells’ love for coaching football never left. Not for a second.

So it’s no surprise that, after stepping away from his post as Rifle High School’s head football coach for two seasons, the decorated coach is taking his old job back.

Wells, who resigned following the 2007 season, will once again head the Bears’ football staff.

Wells actually returned to Rifle football last year, serving as defensive coordinator under then-head coach Ryan Sulkowski.

Sulkowski took a head high school job in Florida in March, creating an opening for Wells to slide back atop a program he’s been a big part of for much of the past decade.

“The itch never really left,” Wells said. “It was just time to step away for a minute.”

Wells’ return to the job isn’t a complete surprise. When he stepped away for personal reasons in the spring of 2008, he strongly hinted he’d return to football at some point.

“I do not think I am finished coaching forever,” he said at the time. “I do feel like God made me a football coach.”

Wells, who is also Rifle’s assistant principal, has certainly been coaching for some time.

As the Bears’ frontman from 2005-07, he compiled a 23-14 record. Rifle made the playoffs in each of those three seasons, advancing all the way to the state title game in 2005.

Before his tenure as head coach, Wells served as an assistant at Rifle under Darrel Gorham. Before that, he coached at Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers, Fla.

Wells was on Gorham’s staff when the Bears won the 3A state title in 2004.

Football at Rifle has struggled in Wells’ absence, mostly due to a dwindling student population brought upon by the opening of nearby Coal Ridge High School in 2005.

The Bears, a combined 7-13 the past two seasons, have also endured their fair share of coaching turmoil, seeing three head coaches pass through the turnstiles in two seasons.

First, there was Wells’ initial replacement, Bill Kucera, who never actually coached a game in 2008 after suffering a neck injury while demonstrating a blocking technique during a preseason practice.

Anthony Alfini coached Rifle through that season before Sulkowski’s arrival in 2009.

With a sizable and talented freshman class surfacing in 2009 and a big group of incoming freshmen on its way, the groundwork for a turnaround appears to be in place for the Bears.

“I can say … that the excitement of last year’s freshman class was infectious,” Wells said. “They were a real joy to be around.”

Still, with so many variables steering a program’s growth, only time will tell how everything plays out at Rifle.

“I truly believe we can restore the pride and involvement in our football program that was so strong just a few years ago,” Wells said. “I don’t know if the classes are huge. Nowadays, it is tough to find a number of kids with a desire to be a part of a football program because there are so many easier options available for them.”

The man Wells is replacing believes that, with Wells in charge, good things await Rifle football.

“Rifle has certainly picked the right coach for the job,” Sulkowski said. “You cannot argue with the fact that he has had past success as a head coach. He knows what it takes to win and a little part of me hopes that he came to realize he can juggle being an administrator, father and football coach while he worked for me at Rifle.

“There is no doubt that Rifle will be back on top soon under his leadership. The program deserves that type of stability.”

jcaspersen@postindependent.com


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