‘I’ve made it to the big leagues’: Gulfport native earns spot on NFL cheerleading team
NEW ORLEANS, La. (WLOX) - A dream evolved into a reality for one Gulf Coast dancer.
She went from dancing at Kelli’s Steps School of Dance as a little girl, to now sashaying her way in the Superdome for thousands of fans.
Gulfport native Peyton Stubbs earned her spot on the NFL sidelines this season after being selected to join the 2021 New Orleans Saints Cheer Team.
Peyton said initially, she was apprehensive about trying out. She said she tried out virtually for the team in 2020, but due to COVID-19, the organization decided that they weren’t accepting any new members.
Fast forward a year later, she was granted the opportunity again.
“I didn’t think I was prepared,” said Stubbs. “They announced tryouts in June, and I hadn’t dance in almost a year.” She considered not trying out at all, but with a little convincing from family and friends, Peyton decided to go for it!
Going to the preliminary tryouts, she realized how much she missed dancing.
“It felt good to dance again,” said Peyton. “Being at the audition in person made me wonder why I was even hesitant about audition. I didn’t realize how much I missed dancing.”
After making it through the preliminary tryouts, and on to the final audition, Peyton said she remembered her final performance not being her best and walked away feeling defeated.
“Personally, my audition, in my eyes, was awful. That was the worst time I’ve ever performed in my entire life. I knew for a fact that I butchered the entire process,” said Peyton. “Walking away from those tryouts, it didn’t feel like one of those moments where I knew I left it all in the floor. I had no idea where I stood in the selection process.”
However, she received an email that would change her life forever.
“I was sitting there like, this is it,” said Peyton. “When I saw my coach’s name on the email, my heart dropped. When I finally opened the email, I was so excited.”
She got the email that she made the squad, but this year it would be different. The New Orleans Saints are merging the team’s Saintsations cheerleaders with traditional game day cheerleaders to enhance the entertainment aspect. They’re taking a 48-person crew of cheerleaders, tumblers, and dancers to pump up the crowd.
“Incorporating cheer, has been a big change, but a positive one because people get to see a new aspect of Saints game day, said Peyton. “Now, you have dancers on the sideline as well as cheerleaders. So, we’re adding traditional cheer in our game-day atmosphere. It’s been so exciting being on a team with these men and women. The talent that everyone possess is unreal!”
While she has only performed for one pre-season game, she said it was an amazing experience.
“It’s completely different than what I was used to, being on a college dance team, said Peyton. “The Dome itself is massive and the fans dance along with you. Just getting to stand on the field was a rush of excitement. It hadn’t hit me yet, but in that moment, I realize that I’ve made it to the big leagues.”
Even though she’s living out her dream, she’s had to make some adjustments in her life. Right now, she’s a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi. And when she’s not practicing, she’s maintaining her grades so she can graduate in December.
“I am a graduate assistant, as well as a student. I go to work from 9-2 and complete any class assignments when I get home,” said Peyton. “On the days I have practice, I leave as soon as I complete my work because by the time I get back home, I’m entirely too tired to do anything else,” she said with a laugh.” It’s one of those things that I have to get used to. I’ve never been on a team where I had to leave the city that I’m in, to drive two hours to another state to practice. It has been a little of an adjustment, but it’s worth it.”
Despite all the excitement that she’s experienced, she said it still doesn’t feel real.
“Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real,” said Peyton. “Our past two practices, we were in the Dome and as I walked in, I was just like, I’m here, I’ve made it. I made it, from a little five-year-old in a Biloxi studio, who didn’t know where her dance career was going, if it was ever going anywhere, all the way to being in the Dome, dancing for an NFL team.”
Peyton said she’s super excited to finally dance in her first regular season home game in the Superdome on Sunday, Oct 3, 2021.
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