UNION, Ky. -- It's been 25 years since the Raiders first stormed the football field at Ryle High School.
Ryle is now a perennial Class 6A contender in Northern Kentucky, expecting every fall to make runs in the big-school state playoffs. And head coach Michael Engler expects another successful season in 2017.
But it all started a quarter-century ago, when Ryle was established as the third high school in the Boone County School District, joining Boone County High School and Conner High School.
The school was created because of the rapid growth of Boone County and school officials knew athletic teams -- specifically, a football team -- would be a rallying point for students and parents who were coming from Boone County and Conner high schools.
"I think that's true at any school," founding Ryle principal Randall Cooper told the Kentucky Post in early 1992. "After-school activities play an important role in getting people involved in the school."
A boosters club had already been formed by the summer of that year and became an opportunity for the community to unite behind the new school. The school chose the Raiders as its nickname and the community learned its teams would wear silver and black uniforms similar to the then-Los Angeles Raiders of the National Football League. The athletic department then added orange as a third color after the Raiders organization complained, according to the current athletic director, Jim Demler.
The new Raiders fielded teams in football, volleyball, boys' and girls' soccer, golf and cross country that first fall, with wrestling, baseball, softball, boys' and girls' basketball, tennis and track also scheduled to begin later in the school year.
The first Raiders football season was to be a nine-game schedule with varsity games against Conner, South Oldham and Adair County. The Raiders added a varsity game with Holmes in October and the rest were junior varsity games because of a limited amount of experience. Athletic Director Charles Holland, who had been athletic director at R.A. Jones Middle School for 13 years prior to taking the helm at Ryle, told The Post the new school would be home to about 420 students grades 10-12 with another 500 in grades 7-9.
This year, there will be around 1,900 students in grades 9-12.
"The number of seniors that we will have playing will be very minimal, probably less than 10," Holland said during the summer of 1992. "The majority of our teams will be made up of sophomores and freshmen."
So, the Raiders' first varsity football coach, Dave Eckstein, who retired as principal of Bellevue High School this year, was building from scratch. Eckstein had been an assistant coach at Boone County High School -- his alma mater -- for seven seasons before starting the Raiders' program.
"It's going to be a challenge, but there's nowhere to go but up," Eckstein said that summer. "It's a new program, but it's in a quality situation and if we do things right starting off we'll be able to get it built the way we want it. I'm a big believer in if you have faith and work hard, things have a way of taking care of themselves."
Eckstein was part of seven consecutive Class AAAA district championships and two state finals appearances as the Boone County offensive line coach, so his experience was a key factor in getting the job.
"You hate to lose good people like Dave, but at the same time, you like to see your people move on and do well," legendary Boone County head coach Owen Hauck said.
The Raiders took the field for a game for the first time at their new home field on Aug. 28, 1992, and gave the established Conner program all it could handle in a game the Cougars won, 28-12. Conner scored twice in the final six minutes to put that game away.
"They were very somber in the locker room after the game," Eckstein told The Post that night. "I took that to be a good sign because it showed they weren't satisfied with just playing a good game. They want to play to win."
Sophomore running back William Foreman rushed for 68 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 39 yards for Ryle as the Raiders gained 179 total yards. Foreman scored the first touchdown in Ryle history late in the second quarter after Conner surged to an early 14-0 lead. Foreman later scored on a 31-yard run to make it 14-12 at the end of the third quarter.
"We played real well up until the end," Eckstein said. "You're never happy when you lose, but we're happy about the fact we played well and gained some valuable experience against a varsity team."
Ryle finally earned its first varsity win on Oct. 30, 1992, in a 47-0 rout of Grant County. The Raiders held the Braves, who were also making their varsity football debut in 1992, to 94 yards on offense with four turnovers. Sophomore linebacker Matt Lozier led the Raiders defense with 14 tackles.
It was the type of effort Eckstein believed would make his new program successful in the coming years.
"What I believe is you have to play good defense to even have a chance to win," he said before the 1992 season.
Eckstein resigned in 1998 with an overall record of 40-31 at Ryle, including 22-11 during his last four seasons there. His Raiders teams went to the state playoffs five straight years and boasted a 27-3 win over area power Highlands in 1995.
"Seven years ago, when I took this job, nobody really wanted the job," Eckstein said in 1998. "No new school had ever really been successful. We have become successful."
Kyle Hockman replaced Eckstein in 1999 and went 21-22 in four seasons at Ryle, reaching the playoffs three times. Bryson Warner then led the Raiders for 11 seasons, compiling a 73-58 record with two 12-win seasons including a run to the state finals in 2006.
"This was a great season that our program will be able to build from," Warner told The Post after a 41-7 loss to Trinity in the final. "And everybody will look back someday and celebrate this season."
Engler is 26-11 since taking over for Warner in 2014 and his Raiders reached the state quarterfinals in 2016 during the 25th season of Raiders football in Union.
"I really like what we have going into the 2017 season," Engler said. "It should make for an exciting year of Ryle football."