• 59°

Cheerleader with area ties rises from UK to the NFL

Former University of Kentucky dance team member Savannah Guzman still remembers being asked when she was interviewed by the Atlanta Falcons cheer team what it would be like if the squad never got to perform inside the stadium this season because of COVID-19.

“I said ‘That would be fine with me. Just being associated with the cheerleaders and representing the Falcons is such an honor,’” Guzman said. “I still stand by that statement because the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders are so much more than game day entertainment. Fans or no fans. Live or virtual. I am excited to be a part of the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders.”

The Falcons opened the season Sept. 13 hosting Seattle and after playing week two at Dallas will be back home Sunday to host Chicago.

Guzman, a first-grade teacher, says making the NFL cheer squad was a long-time goal.

“I feel very accomplished and proud of myself that I never stopped training to get where I am today,” Guzman said. “It also means I now have a new platform, new responsibilities, and lots of people counting on and looking up to me. I am so thankful that the team took me on and I have a new family.”

Just like sports, everything with the Falcons cheer team is also a fluid situation due to COVID-19.

“You must be extremely flexible with ever-changing schedules, protocols, and regulations. The cheerleading squad looks a little different this year and I expect it to go through many changes as the football season continues,” she said. “We still practice and cheer with the goal of putting our best foot forward and providing the best entertainment the NFL has to offer.”

Guzman was a cheerleader at North Laurel High School in London and has done studio dancing her whole life. Her dream was to make the UK dance team like she did. Now she says the UK dance team and Atlanta cheer squad have a lot of the same characteristics.

“Both want well-rounded athletes. That means any style of dance they throw at us we can master. They are also looking for technical skills. Dance and gymnastics training help. Through the interview process and our resumes, they determined people who would best represent their school/company,” Guzman said.

“In that sense, I feel like UK and other teams I have been on before have prepared me for this moment. I agree it takes a lot of dance and cheer training, but they are also looking for so much more than that.”

Guzman — her mother, Vicki Bottom, was from Harrodsburg and her grandmother, Betty Lou Allen, still lives in Harrodsburg — thought her connection with dance was over after she accepted the teaching position in Atlanta after graduation from UK in 2019. However, UK coach Dawn Walters asked her to help her with the dance team with practices and game performances.

“Seeing the other side of the sideline made me realize I didn’t want my time entertaining on the field to be over,” Guzman said. “That is what got me motivated to get prepared and get back out there doing what I love most.”

She teaches first-grade reading and math virtually each weekday morning and then makes and posts art lessons for students to create.

“I try to attend a workout class or go to the apartment gym each day. At night I have team meetings, practices, or Atlanta cheer group Bible study. On the weekends I like to explore the city,” Guzman said.

She also makes time to keep up with dance team members and says she “will always be a huge” Kentucky fan.