For The Tribune
Football has become more than a passion for Ryan Stark.
Football has become a business.
The 37-year-old Seymour native recently started the Lexington Red Dragons, a semi-professional football team that will compete in the Gridiron Development League.
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Stark said he has been a player and coach in football, so owning seemed like a logical next step.
“Football is a very important thing and has shaped who I am,” he said. “I’m ready to focus on owning and running my own team.”
Stark got the idea to start the team after a season as a defensive end for the Mount Sterling Trojans. He also had a stint with the Western Kentucky Thoroughbreds, but the drive was too long to make consistent drives.
“I brought a few players with me to the Trojans, and our first year we were 8-3,” he said.
Stark said many of his friends who played on his team wanted it to be run a little more professionally.
“Nothing against those guys that ran it, but we wanted a little bit more structure,” he said.
Stark approached the University of Kentucky, and the Lexington Red Dragons ended up being the focus of the class project for the university’s marketing seniors.
On Nov. 8, the Red Dragons were born as the newest semi-professional football team.
This Sunday, Stark will host tryouts for the team in Lexington and expects between 100 to 150 players to try to make the cut.
Stark said the team is permitted to have 60 on their active roster and 20 on an inactive roster.
Stark also will be supporting a nine-member paid coach- ing staff.
He said he hopes he can pay players after a few seasons.
After a roster is set, offseason workouts and practices will take place in anticipation of the season-opener, which will take place at the end of April.
The season will be eight games, and playoffs will begin in July, he said.
Home games for the Red Dragons will be played Saturday afternoons and evenings at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, and games will be live-streamed online.
Away games will be played at cities in Kentucky and Tennessee.
One thing is for certain for Stark: He plans on winning.
“We expect to go undefeated and win every game,” he said. “We’re in this to win the whole thing.”
To win a championship, teams might have quite a bit of traveling involved, since teams are spread out among the Midwest and East Coast.
Stark has such a competitive nature that he plans to play on the team as well. That is, if he’s the team’s best option.
“Assuming we get the coaching staff we need, I will stay away from coaching,” he said. “If I can beat out other guys, then I will be the owner and be second and third string. The best person is going to play and we’re here to win and so people can have fun, get recognition and just win.”
Building a culture of caring for teammates like family is also something he hopes to create through the Red Dragons.
“This is our family and our football family,” he said.
Players are looking to hone in skills and get exposure to advance to higher leagues like the Canadian Football League, European leagues or even the NFL, Stark said.
Others are just playing for the passion of the game.
“Hopefully they can play overseas in the CFL or the NFL,” he said, adding his team will provide film for each individual player and show them how to create their own highlights and post to YouTube. “Or maybe even arena football, but that’s not much different than the pro-development league we’re a part of.”
Some of the players in the league are former NFL players, and Stark said he may have two former players join his team.
Even though Stark still is fairly new to the semi-professional league, he has learned people are passionate about being part of their teams.
Being able to provide those opportunities means something to him, he said.
“Being around people in these leagues has shown me that this is their source of happiness and this is their thing and get a source of pride or reason to do something,” Stark said. “It gives people a reason to be motivated and gives them something to look forward to.”
Individual tickets for games are $8, and season tickets can be purchased for $25 through the official website at lexingtonreddragons.com.