• 52°

Local girl makes it big in the Big Easy

     This Friday, football-starved Saints fans will gather around the television or even flood New Orleans as the NFL season kicks off.

     The Saints nation will hope for another Super Bowl, but for one local woman this season will stand out from all the rest despite the performance on the football field.

     Summer Rials, a 2011 graduate of Wesson Attendance Center, will join the Saints family on the sidelines as one of the Saintsations.

     A journey that began when she was just three years old, Rials grew up dancing and cheering, preparing for this day.

     “I’ve always had a passion for dance and performing,” Rials said. “Being an NFL cheerleader has always been a dream of mine.”

     Mix that dream with a familial-wide fandom of the New Orleans Saints and a desire to be a part of the Saints family is inevitable.

     “My whole family are die-hard fans,” she said. “We always sat down as a family and watched the Saints game.”

     Rials, the daughter of Steve and Dana Rials, remembers going to her first Saints game and seeing the cheerleaders.

     “Looking out seeing the Saintsations, I thought ‘I want to do that,'” she said.

     After cheering at the University of Southern Mississippi for two years, Rials was faced with a difficult decision: continue on with her Golden Eagles or move to the next level with the Saints.

     “It was hard to decide if it was time,” she said. “It was something I had to pray about.”

     Rials finally decided to go through the three-day process. The first day consisted of a day of dance try-outs that included three cuts. Those who made it through went to a panel interview and took a NFL test. Rials said questions included naming all 32 NFL teams and knowing the difference between a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 defense. The test required a lot of studying for Rials.

     “But I felt like I rocked it,” she said.

     The final day consisted of dancing again and another panel interview.

     Now, Rials practices twice a week with all the girls and is prepping for the football season. She works hard with the choreographer and on her own to make sure she knows her routines.

     “It is a job, and you want to go at it like it’s a job,” she said. “You have to know the dances, watch what you eat, watch your weight. If you don’t, you’re cut.”

     Rials said she has enjoyed working with the coaches and learning from them.

     “They’re really tough, but it takes someone tough to get someone good,” she said.

     But it’s not all work and no fun for Rials. She said she has really enjoyed working with all the Saintsation women.

     “I’ve really formed a lot of really good friendships,” she said.

     The Saintsations range in age from 18 to 30, and Rials said the veterans have been great at taking the rookies under their wings.

     “It’s really fun to get advice from some of the older girls,” she said.

     Rials said she is also proud to represent the state of Mississippi in New Orleans. She said there are six Mississippi Saintsations, and she believes that it is important to show the varied demographics of Saint fans.

     “I think it’s really great to have that many girls because it shows fans aren’t just in Louisiana but Mississippi too,” she said.

     This will be a year of change for Rials, but she hopes it is the beginning of a long chapter in her life. The idea of being on the sidelines instead of the stands is quite the change in mentality for Rials.

     “Not being a fan anymore is kind of surreal,” she said.

     Rials is certainly looking forward to the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs and to seeing all their hard work pay off.

     “I love it, really truly love it,” she said.

     Rials will be a junior this year at USM and is majoring in healthcare marketing.