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|Vidalia pair cheering for Tech|
Taylor Welch of Vidalia dreamed of cheerleading since taking up gymnastics at the age of five.
Mason Ozburn dreamed up playing baseball at a major college.
Welch realized her dream early. Ozburn's dream hit a detour and now he's a member of Welch's team — as a cheerleader with Louisiana Tech.
"I actually talked Mason into trying out," said Welch, who made the cheerleading squad at Tech as a freshman last year, and made the team again this year. "We needed more guys. We didn't have as many guys as we did girls try out. And I knew Mason was strong. I actually mentioned it to him last year when he was trying out for baseball."
Ozburn, all-parish football and Player of Year as junior in baseball as a pitcher for the Vidalia High team, did not make it as a walk-on for the Tech team his freshman or sophomore year when only one walk-on was selected. He was content to return to school for his junior year and concentrate on his studies.
"Taylor told me anybody could try out," Ozburn said. "I was thinking hard about it, even though I wasn't really for it. But I showed up the next day. I still wasn't sure. I had never been that nervous through football or baseball. Everybody is staring directly at you, watching every move. But it was really fun. It was a whole new thing and I have always been very competitive. And I always wanted to be part of a collegiate team."
Welch first cheered in the third grade.
"I always had too much energy," she said.
Welch cheered for the Adams County Christian School junior high football team and cheered four years for the AC high school football team and boys basketball team while also playing basketball.
Welch decided to try out for the Louisiana Tech cheerleading squad, figuring she would be a longshot.
"I was really nervous," Welch said. "I almost didn't get out of the car after I saw how many people were trying out. I was nauseated."
Welch survived the first cut.
"After that night I didn't think I was going to make it," she said. "I wasn't expecting it."
But when Welch went to look at the final list of those who made the cheerleading team, her name was on the list.
"I think I made it on my potential," Welch said. "I didn't really know what I was doing. My stunts were not that great. I weighed 98 pounds, which probably didn't hurt much. It was tough because I didn't know anybody and the girls returning were really good."
Welch also learned a lesson through that first tryout.
"If I see a girl looking like she is about to throw up, I'm going to talk to her."
Welch said collegiate cheerleading is completely different from high school cheerleading.
"I like it a lot better," she said. "I would rather have one guy catching me than three girls."
After starting out 1-4, Tech won its final seven games and earned an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego against TCU.
"That was so much fun," Taylor said. "We got to cheer in the San Diego Chargers' stadium. It was really cool."
Taylor also got to cheer at Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Mississippi State.
Cheerleaders have to try out each year, even those with squad experience.
"It was a lot different this year because we're going to compete at Nationals in January," Welch said. "The bar was set pretty high. There was a lot more pressure and a lot of good new talent. Of the 16 in the group, only seven are going to Nationals. There are a list of requirements and we don't know who is going yet. And it was also tougher trying out because two cheerleaders from last year got cut."
Ozburn wasn't real sure he had made the team, although several of the female cheerleaders thought he did well enough to earn a spot.
"It was tough going in front of the judges," he said. "They told me there were some things I was doing that guys who had been cheerleading for years were unable to do. It made me push myself even harder.
Ozburn admits he didn't know how his friends would react when he told them he was a cheerleader.
"They have actually been more supportive than I thought," Ozburn said. "They told me that was great."
Ozburn also realized male cheerleaders do more than just cheer.
"There are really not girlie cheers you do," he said. "You have to be in shape and you have to be athletic to do some of the stunts. I have dropped a cheerleader before, but everyone has done that, it's going to happen."
All the work is more than worth it.
"It's a lot of fun on game day," Welch said. "We go out early and sell raffle tickets. Then we get to the field early before the band and team come in."
Tech opens its season on Aug. 30 against Texas A&M in Shreveport. The Bulldogs' first home game is against Rice on September 15.
"My biggest fear is that first home game in front of people I know," Ozburn said. "Right now I don't know how I will do in a game. I've never been a very expressive person, but I am way more expressive than what I was."
Welch said this year's cheerleading team is a closer unit.
"This squad is completely different from last year," Welch said. "This year's group enjoys hanging out together. I can't wait to get back and for school to start."
Welch and Ozburn both said they plan on taking up pediatric therapy.
"Cheerleading helps in learning how to work with people," Welch said. "It really hit me when a little girl walked by and said real excitedly, 'Daddy, there's a cheerleader.' It makes you pay attention to what you are doing. It's like one of our teaches said, we are the face of the university."
No matter if that face is male of female.
"More guys need to know who it is," Ozburn said. "I'm talking to some guys in Vidalia and trying to get them interested in cheerleading. I had my doubts at first, but it's a lot of fun. And it's very rewarding."
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