For Kayla Drawdy, being a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader just keeps getting better.
The latest and greatest round of exposure for the NFL's most ambitious cheerleading squad: National television, via a series called "Making the Squad" to premiere in June on the NFL Network.
Drawdy and her 27 fellow 2006 Bucs Cheerleaders – as well as the 330 other women who tried out for this year's squad – are the subject of a fascinating series of behind-the-scenes documentaries produced by the NFL Network over the last two months and set to begin airing in less than a week. This is the second year that the network has pursued this subject; last year's "Making the Squad" focused on the Miami Dolphins' cheerleading squad and drew some of the network's highest ratings of the year.
The prospect of having something as personally challenging as NFL cheerleading tryouts chronicled for a national audience might have been daunting to some, but for Drawdy it was just another opportunity provided by a very rewarding five-year relationship with the Buccaneers. She has traveled the globe, shot photo spreads in well-known magazines, represented the team at numerous community events and cheered for the Bucs on the NFL's biggest stage. It's no wonder 350 women wanted to be a part of this year's squad, and no wonder that the NFL Network wanted a piece of it either.
"It's something different every year," said Drawdy appreciatively. "The first year was my rookie year and that was hectic for me. Then we won the Super Bowl that year, and we get back and Tampa is going crazy, so that was a different year. Then we're in Japan and we're in Germany…every year it's something new and different. This year we have a camera in our face all the team, which was definitely different.
"We've kind of been in the spotlight for the last couple of years, but this is definitely to a higher degree."
The NFL Network crew was given an all-access pass to the Bucs' three-week tryout process, as well as several events since, including a calendar photo shoot in South Florida. The resulting footage has been developed into three shows scheduled to air over the next three Mondays, June 5, 12 and 19. The Buccaneer Cheerleaders will be featured in that trio of broadcasts, all beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET; in July, a similar series will run on the San Diego Chargers' squad.
For a preview of the show, click on the video link at the top of this story.
Five years in to her Bucs tenure, Drawdy took the cameras in stride during the auditions. For Rachel Watson, a 20-year old college student who was a rookie on the team last year, the addition of the NFL Network crew added a new challenge to her second time through auditions.
"The cameras definitely changed the tryout process," said Watson. "I was so nervous going into it. They were just up in your face constantly the entire time. They wouldn't even leave when you were doing kick lines…you thought you were going to kick them! But it was fun. It was a good experience, and towards the end of process we really got used to having them around, and we liked having them around. They were great guys and we got used to them."
The relaxed atmosphere that developed between the cheerleaders and the network crew will give the viewer a unique look into the full and three-dimensional lives of these 28 young women. By the time the group headed downstate to shoot the calendar two weeks ago, the ever-present cameras and side interviews had become old hat.
The cheerleaders, who will gather at a local restaurant on Monday to view the first episode together as a team, are excited to see the results.
"It's going to show a lot of sides to us," said Watson. "We're real people, we have real jobs, we're all hard-working young women. We don't just lead cheers. This should show all the emotions that go into the tryout process and the calendar shoot and things like that, but most of all it will show that we're not just the stereotypical cheerleader. We have feelings; we're real people; we have careers; we're full-time students and mothers."
And they have interesting stories to tell, such as that of Veronica Serna, one of 11 rookies to make the team.
The NFL Network crew took an interest in Serna early in the shoot, drawn by the fact that the 24-year-old had traveled from Dallas to Tampa specifically to try out for the Bucs' squad. When she made it, she promptly moved to Florida.
Serna couldn't have known before she arrived for the tryouts in March that a constantly present film crew would be part of the bargain.
"In some ways it did make it more nerve-wracking, but I think for the most part it made me try even harder," she said. "The pressure was on. Right at the get-go in the prelim auditions they came to me, right at the beginning before we even started dancing, and started to talk to me. That made me realize that they were really watching me."
The judges were too, and they obviously liked what they saw in this intrepid Texan. But why the Buccaneers when she could have headed in just about any direction from Dallas to pursue this dream? A partial answer: Serna said she did her research and liked the opportunities that could arise from making this particular squad. To get the full story, you'll have to watch the series in June.
The cheerleaders have only seen a short excerpt from the two months of filming, but it was enough to pique their interest for Monday night.
"We're so excited," said Watson. "We can't wait. We saw a little film clip of the show while we were at our calendar shoot and it looked amazing. They did an awesome job."
There is much to do in the interim, however. On Tuesday night, the 28 members of the 2006 squad practiced together as a team for the first team. They'll gather again on Thursday night for another long session in preparation for their first public performance on Saturday at the Buccaneers FanFest at Raymond James Stadium. It's a tight schedule, but they'll be ready.
"It's going great," said Drawdy. "We've had a really, really busy and fast couple of months with the NFL Network show going on, taping for the video crew, doing our calendar shoot and so on. It's been a bit of whirlwind, I'm sure, for some of the newer members of the squad, but we have a strong veteran base here and a lot of good women to help this thing along."
As gracious – and practiced! – as the women of the Bucs' squad were at providing interviews on Tuesday night, there wasn't much time for interruptions. The opening verses of a current hit song looped over and over on the sound system of the local fitness club as different subsets of the team learned a new dance. Their red-and-black pom pons, forgotten for the moment, lined the side walls. One wall of mostly windows looked out on a Hyde Park street, giving a perfect view of the practice to several interested pedestrians. Cheerleading Coordinator Sandy Charboneau ran the workout and stopped frequent to offer advice, imploring the cheerleaders to add their own style to the moves without sacrificing precision.
A thousand little details went into the practice, the kinds of things one could only see from the inside. That's where the NFL Network comes in next week, and throughout June. Mark your calendars for the next three Mondays, at 8:00 p.m. ET, for an exclusive look at what it takes to become and what it means to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader.
"It's going to be awesome," said Drawdy. "It's really a chance for us to show everyone who we really are. A lot of us are very responsible, well-rounded women, ages 18-33, with careers and full lives. This might show the public that we do more than get out on the field and cheer. A lot of people think it's easy, but there's a lot more that goes into it and we had a chance to show that off a little bit."