Jay Saravis doesn't get it.
Not from reading about the recent checkered past of the Cheyenne Mountain football program. Not from conversations with school staff about the challenges the Indians will face to earn respect again.
He just had to look in his players' eyes upon meeting them for the first time earlier this month, having spent his entire life and career in New York.
"Whatever stigma Cheyenne Mountain has for football, I don't buy it," said Saravis, who was officially hired June 12 after spending the previous 16 seasons in the Massapequa School District in New York and 48 years on Long Island. "These kids are awesome. They just want leadership. I really believe I'm walking into a great situation."
Three seasons ago, times were so tough and healthy players so hard to find at the District 12 school that administration shut down the season early, forfeiting the final two games and making national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Since then, the program has made sizable strides, highlighted by a 6-4 ledger in 2016 for its first winning season since 2012. Earlier this year, the program parted ways with longtime coach Willie Roberts to go in a different direction.
Now, it's all about heading in that new direction with a new leader.
"I'm thinking we're going to have a changed program this year, and we're hoping to win a lot more games," Indians junior safety and wide receiver Rudy Juvera said. "From our first practices, it seems like Coach Jay is really on it. From where he came from, he took his teams to the playoffs and won championships. He knows what he's doing, and we're happy to have him here."
And Saravis is glad he made the move. Prior to his whirlwind summer, he had never envisioned living at the foot of Pikes Peak, let alone anywhere other than New York.
"Long Island is very congested and densely populated," Saravis said. "I spent my whole life there, and this was a big leap of faith. It's great to see a different part of the world, and I couldn't be happier right now. We were trying to get out of the rat race, and we love it here. So far, it looks like a good marriage, and I'm so impressed with this school district and leadership, from superintendent all the way down. It's outstanding. I'll be mad when someone pinches me and wakes me up."
Saravis, who is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and USA Weightlifting, holds a master's degree and is in the process of completing his school leadership coursework. He most recently served as defensive coordinator for Massapequa and also has coached lacrosse, softball and track.