Spirit Squad

Fall is in the air, which means it’s time to once again meet under those Friday night lights! Each year in our fall issue, we like to spotlight student athletes in our community. This year, we reached out to five local schools to ask them to select a member of the football team, cheerleading team, and band to represent their school — the ultimate spirit squad.

By Alicia Carter | Photos by Paul Perdue

North Gwinnett High School

Jaaymen Rochell
Football: Center
Senior

How did you get involved in football?
Football is something that has been imbedded in my family since I was born. In GFL once it was time to register for 6-year- old football, you can bet that I was the first one to register. I played it that year and I just have loved it and continued to do it ever since. At this point it is a lifestyle.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m still trying to decide if I’m most looking forward to playing an out-of-state football team in the best stadium in America (Corky Kell vs. Hoover), or if I’m more looking forward to reclaiming our region title on an ESPN game against Collins Hill.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
Absolutely, it consists of a day full of drinking water and Pedialyte while listening to R&B until about 15 minutes before game time. That is when I will switch to some hip-hop to get the juices flowing a little.

How do you balance academics in your sport?
I take pride in being a student athlete. It’s that simple. I acknowledge that in order to play stress-free and know that I won’t have to worry about something stopping me from playing football, I must take care of things in the classroom. I even want to open up my college options by getting good grades.

What are your plans after you graduate?
My plans are simple. Play Division I football and set myself up for the potential of an NFL career while getting a great degree for when the time comes for me to hang up the cleats.

Taylor Champitto
Cheerleader
Senior

How did you get involved in cheerleading?
I started cheering in third grade and have cheered ever since.

What’s your favorite memory from cheering?
My favorite memory is winning the Game Day State Championship this year.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I am most looking forward to cheering Friday nights on the sidelines.

How do you balance academics and cheer?
I stay organized and stick to a schedule to keep me on track.

What are your plans after you graduate?
I plan on attending Ole Miss or Mississippi State and hopefully cheering there.

What are the best words of wisdom you received from your coach?
The best words of wisdom I have heard from my coaches are to have fun and enjoy every moment while you can before it’s all over.


Josh Murzello

Band: Drum Major
Senior

How did you get involved in band?
I got involved in band in sixth grade following my older brother’s footsteps into the band program. I thought, “What’s there to lose?” Plus, all my friends are doing it. Now looking back seven years later, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

What’s your favorite memory from band?
If I had to pick one, I’d have to say the bus rides are some of the most unforgettable experiences. The fun that comes out of those trips, the terrible free-styling, and the even worse singing are some of my favorite memories.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m most looking forward to competitions and a full football season this year. This past year, we weren’t able to perform our show at any competitions and weren’t able to support our Dawgs at away games. I’m more than excited to finally be able to display all our passion and hard work as much as possible this season.

How do you balance academics and band?
It is a lot of time commitment, and time is very limited to put into other activities like academics. Personally, I use an agenda to stay organized and make sure I’m able to manage my time and keep up with deadlines as the season goes on.

Peachtree Ridge High School

Carlos Fuller
Football: Linebacker
Senior

How did you get involved in football?
My father believed I needed something to do instead of sitting on my behind. I do thank him for that, though.

What’s your favorite memory from your time playing football?
My favorite memory was in the seventh-grade playoff game against Mill Creek. I had broken my thumb but didn’t really feel it because of the adrenaline. Even so, I had two huge carries at running back that brought us back in the game and the rush from the stands and teammates cheering for me was amazing. It will always be my favorite football moment.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
This season I’m looking forward to seeing how our team chemistry works out on the field and seeing how much we trust each other as brothers.

How do you balance academics and football?
I balance football and academics by making sure every free moment I get, whether at home or in school, I make sure I do my homework.

Jubal Capri
Cheerleader – Captain
Senior

How did you get involved in cheerleading?
I got involved in the fourth grade, after years of begging my parents to join the squad! I had been doing gymnastics and tumbling for a while, and eventually began to cheer both recreationally and competitively. It was at that point that I realized cheerleading was my true passion.

What’s your favorite memory from your time cheering?
My favorite memory was being able to participate in Cheer Off each year. Our team would work on a routine throughout the season to showcase at this cheer competition, and we even won first place one year! It was a very exciting event, and very rewarding to see that our hard work all season had finally paid off in the end.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
Leading my squad as Cheer Captain this season!

How do you balance academics and cheer?
It is challenging to balance both academics and cheer, as I value and strive to be very successful at both. However, I just have to remind myself that despite the stress and workload of school, cheer is something that I chose to do because I am passionate about it, and therefore it is very important to take a moment each day to disconnect from the other stresses in my life and fully participate in what I enjoy doing.

What are your plans after you graduate?
My plans after I graduate are to go to school to become a nurse. I also plan on likely continuing to cheer through college.

What are the best words of wisdom you received from your coach?
The best words of wisdom I received from my coach were to not stress about things that are out of my control, and to pray about anything that was causing me to feel anxious.

Rachel Hoang
Band – Drum Major
Junior

What instrument do you play and how long have you played it?
I am the drum major in my school’s marching band. I’ve been the drum major since sophomore year (I am a junior now). I also marched trumpet my freshman year (played for about two years prior).

How did you get involved in band?
I got involved in band because I wanted to start an instrument in sixth grade and band seemed like the coolest option at that time.

What’s your favorite memory from your time with the band?
My favorite memory from my time with the band is literally just finishing any performance under the dark sky and bright lights of the football stadium. Throughout the whole performance, my body turns to autopilot and I don’t realize that I just performed until I am done. The feeling is indescribable.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I am looking forward most to band competitions, especially the yummy fried Oreos they usually sell there.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
My “game-day ritual” is taking a nap before the game. Those hour-long naps literally give me the BEST energy boost.

How do you balance academics and band?
I try to pay more attention in class that day so that there is less to do/study when I get home. I guess I do have to sacrifice sleep sometimes, too.

What are your plans after you graduate?
I really do not know yet, but I am considering the military.

Lanier High School

Carson Thomas
Football: Quarterback
Senior

How did you get involved in football?
I grew up watching football as a young kid, and when I grew of age to play, I immediately signed up to play. I loved football as a kid and was inspired by NFL players that I watched on television growing up.

What’s your favorite memory from your football?
Our last game of the year my freshman year. We won on a game-winning field goal while playing away against a really good Parkview team. It was a hard-fought victory that was a great memory.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m looking forward to competing with my team as a senior. This team has a special bond, one that I believe will benefit us and allow us to compete with the best of the best this season.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
Although it sounds odd, I wear my left sock inside out while in the field house pre-game and during other activities like team meal or meetings.

How do you balance academics in your sport?
I have a supporting family, along with coaches and teachers who help me if I ever get swamped with either.

What are your plans after you graduate?
I plan to go to college to study law. Following my first four years, I intend to go to law school.

Abby O’Rouke
Cheerleading
Senior

How did you get involved in cheerleading?
My mom was a coach to my older siblings Mackenzie and Morgan. When I first started showing interest in cheer my mom signed up to be a coach and then later that year was asked to be the director for North Gwinnett rec. My uncle was the kicking coach for North Gwinnett, and my dad and grandfather played for North Gwinnett, so cheer just became a natural thing in my blood.

What’s your favorite memory from your time cheering?
Last year while COVID was at its highest, everyone wasn’t really sure if we were going to get a season. Getting the text that we would have a season was probably the best memory. Everyone was so excited, and it really brought everyone together as a team and we made the best memories.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
I don’t really have a game-day ritual, but I do have a pair of lucky socks I wear at every game.

How do you balance academics and cheering?
It’s hard because most of the time I’m at cheer, whether it’s comp or spirit, I have a lot of support who help me out and keeps me in check, like my parents and my coaches who have always helped me with academics.

What are your plans after you graduate?
After I graduate, I will enter the DMS program and will graduate with an associate’s degree, while being trained to become an ultrasound tech.

Hector Montalvo Jr.
Band: Mellophone
Senior

How did you get involved in band?
Both of my sisters were in high school band a few years ago and they encouraged me to join as well. I started playing horn in the sixth grade and started taking lessons.

What’s your favorite memory from band?
At competition my sophomore year, it started pouring rain and we continued the show anyway, having arguably our best run of the year despite the weather.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m most excited for marching band competitions this year. We’ve been pushing ourselves this season, and the payoff in October is always worth it.

How do you balance academics and band?
It’s difficult, but I try my best to finish schoolwork in class so that I can focus on band outside of school.

What are your plans after you graduate?
I hope to study music performance or music education, whether I stay in state or go to another school or conservatory out of state.

Buford High School

River Wilson
Football: Defensive Tackle
Senior

How did you get involved in football?
I went to the Atlanta Falcons football game when they played the New England Patriots with my dad when I was 5 years old.

What’s your favorite memory from playing football?
Wining the FBU National Championship down in Naples, Florida, in 8th grade.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
Our first game against North Cobb in the Corky Kell Classic.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
I listen to my playlist called “every day” before each and every game.

How do you balance academics and football?
I really take advantage of the time that the teachers give us to do homework at the end of class.

What are your plans after you graduate?
I plan on attending the United States Naval Academy.

What are the best words of wisdom you received from your coach?
Coach Snell told us in FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), “Wolves do not lose sleep over the option of sheep.” And I still live by this quote.

Emilee Akins
Cheerleading: Captain
Senior

How did you get involved in cheerleading?
I began cheerleading when I was 5 years old because I was always surrounded by football with both of my older brothers playing, so then, it just made sense. I ended up falling in love with it, and 13 years later I wouldn’t want it any other way!

What’s your favorite memory from cheering?
My favorite memory was cheering on the team when we won the state championship game in 2019. My brother was a senior on the team, and I got to celebrate with him on the field, in the rain, after the big win.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I am most looking forward to cheering on the same group of boys I have since the age of 6, as well as cheering with some of the same girls — and having one last run all together.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
My game-day ritual is with my best friend, Whitney. We listen to one specific song, home or away. We have never missed a game since sophomore year. I also wear the same Bare Minerals lipstick that just seems to be a superstition since winning state.

How do you balance academics and cheering?
I balance academics and cheer through lots and lots of planning. I have a written planner that I carry to every class and fill out for every assignment so that I always stay on top of my work, and to also keep track of all practices and games. I also am a firm believer in no procrastination; it’s better to get things done right when they come around.

What are your plans after you graduate?
I hope to attend the University of Georgia and participate in their Double Dawg program and obtain a master’s in education.

What are the best words of wisdom you received from your coach?
The best words of wisdom I have EVER received is from my dear coach Mrs. Shoemaker. She has taught me the best way to deal with negativity and issues amongst other people is to love them with all you have and pray always for them by name. But also, to never forget you are so loved by so many people, and one person’s negativity will never define your life.

Savanna Wachter
Band: Flute
Senior

How did you get involved in band?
I became involved in band in the sixth grade mainly because my parents had forced me after I had shown the littlest interest at first. They had met the old band director, Luther Harris, and were immediately hooked on his lively, optimistic, and extremely comedic personality, so they had signed me up even though I was a little bit nervous at first.

What’s your favorite memory from band?
By far, my favorite memory in band was my freshman year when, at the McEachern Marching Invitational, we won our first ever grand championship as the Buford Band of Wolves. It was such an honor to experience such a
great triumph with a group of individuals I had come to love so dearly over the course of the season as well as being one of the featured soloists in our show, entitled “Into the Woods.”

What are you most looking forward to this season?
What I’m definitely looking forward to the most this season is being able to go back to at least a somewhat normal season with all of the regular activities, parades, and competitions we’re able to attend throughout the season. I never really came to appreciate all of those parts of being a marching band member until that opportunity was taken away during the height of COVID last year.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
Yes, we do have a game-day ritual. For years (I’m not exactly sure the number of years this has gone on), the Buford Band of Wolves has had a tradition of going around to all of your friends and fellow marching band members, linking hands with them, and pressing
our thumbs together as hard as we can right before we go on to perform. In actuality, it acts as a way to physically “push out” all of the game-day or competition-day jitters and nervousness from our systems before we’re set to play.

How do you balance academics and band?
In terms of balancing academics and band, I really made an effort to only put classes on my plate that I believe I enjoy and can really handle, especially with the marching band season being so hectic. If I enjoy a certain activity or academic class, I really motivate myself and believe I can achieve all that I put my mind to. Comparing my grades before band, this activity has possibly even made me smarter because I’ve learned how to manage my time better.

Collins Hill High School

Sam Horn
Football: Quarterback
Senior

How did you get involved in football?
When I was younger, I always played flag football or played outside with my brothers. Then when I had the chance to play rec I signed up and played then.

What’s your favorite memory from football?
Sophomore year when we won the Walton game on a game-winning drive and touchdown pass.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
Getting back to the state championship and winning it all.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
I always eat McDonald’s for a pregame meal.

What are your plans after you graduate?
Either go to college at the University of Missouri or enter into the MLB Draft.

It’s pretty amazing that you excel as a baseball player as well as on the football field. Tell us a little about the opportunity and decision to play both sports in college?
It’s definitely going to be a different experience and I will always be busy, but it’s nothing I’m not used to. I’ve always dreamed about playing both for as long as I can, and as of now I still have that chance so I’m going to take it.

 

Isa Bell
Cheerleading
Senior

How did you get involved in cheer?
I started cheer in my sophomore year at Collins Hill. I was initially on the JV/ Junior Varsity football and basketball spirit cheer teams, but since then I’ve mainly stuck to football spirit cheer. I didn’t really know anyone on the team at the time, so I mainly just got involved because it was something that deep down, I’ve always wanted to do and get involved with.

What’s your favorite memory from cheer?
My favorite memory has to be from this past season! There was a certain game where we had been struggling to get a final touchdown and, when one of the guys finally scored, the crowd got so loud and excited that it was deafening! You couldn’t hear anything besides cheering and the energy was contagious. We all left our positions to jump around and hug each other because we were all just that happy. It felt like one of those perfect, classic movie moments!

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I seriously just can’t wait for this season to start! After how our last one ended, I feel like this is going to be the season where everyone gives it their all and makes the best of every game we get! I also am so happy to be on such a fantastic team for my senior year. I plan on enjoying every moment I have with the other cheerleaders and my coach to the fullest and making some great memories.

Do you have a game-day ritual?
It might sound a bit weird, but I have the same pair of lucky socks I wear for every game! I promise, I wash them, but I just can’t go to any game without them or I just feel off. It’s a bit of a superstition I guess!

How do you balance academics and cheer?
I try my best to always prioritize school first. As wonderful as it is to be a part of such a great team, it’s important to stay on top of my grades and to make sure that I’m not falling behind. I feel like if I’m not doing the best I can in school, I’m not going to be able to
do my best in other areas, including cheer. I always try to stay in communication with my coach and teachers if I’m ever struggling and I make sure to ask for help when I need it.

What are your plans after you graduate?
After I graduate, I plan on continuing my education in college and pursuing a degree in labor and delivery nursing! I am hoping to attend college out of state and see what else is out there for me to experience.

Catherine Lane
Band: Percussion
Senior

How did you get involved in band?
I’ve always loved music, whether it was jamming out to songs with my siblings and babysitter when I was younger, listening to all of my parents’ favorite ’80s hair bands, or starting to learn guitar in elementary school. As a result, band was a bit of a natural progression for my love of music. My sister was already in orchestra which only furthered my interest in taking a music class in middle school and high school. An hour a day where my only focus was to do my favorite thing, it was a clear no-brainer.

Why did you choose this instrument?
Percussion was a choice that came rather naturally to me. The fact that I get to play and learn so many different instruments, like a marimba, timpani, or vibraphone, alongside the well- known snare, bass, and tenors, truly sold me on percussion. As well as the fact that I get to experience so many more instruments than I would if I had decided on anything else. Percussion has a variety that has always kept me entertained and enticed.

What’s your favorite memory from your time with the band?
It’s a toss-up between two different ones. The first was the final competition during my freshman year; we had a horrible practice during the morning before the competition. We weren’t together and the overall morale was the lowest it had been all season. The drum majors were able to boost morale through one of the best inspirational speeches I’ve ever heard, and when we went to the competition, we killed it. We won second overall and won first in every category in our class. What really made it, though, were the people, that senior group was amazing and holds some of the best people I’ve ever met and performing with them one final time meant so much. They were mentors and friends and the fact that we left that season on such a high note was the perfect possible ending.

The second memory is from indoor drumline GIPA Champs this past year. It was the season that we got to return to competing and after no marching band competitions in the fall and our previous indoor season getting cut short due to COVID, this season meant the world. Each competition was great, but the last one was outstanding. We performed better than we ever had before and the looks on my freshmen’s faces were a testament to the love we all have for each other and the activity. Winning gold for our class didn’t mean as much as getting to see the people that I have grown so incredibly close to see what it’s all about, and watching them show their true potential that I knew they had from the first practice.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
I’m looking forward to finally getting back to competitions. Last year definitely did not feel the same without those long Saturdays that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Without the bus rides back and forth and the thrill of a crowd that is there just for marching band, the season just didn’t feel quite right.

What are your plans after you graduate?
After I graduate, I will be heading off to college to study digital media and new-age marketing. I would like to work in digital marketing and presentation for companies or individuals.

What are the best words of wisdom you received from your band director?
“Don’t look at me when you mess up.” It sounds odd without an explanation, but one of the first things I used to always do, was make a face and stare at my instructors when I would screw up. Not only did it throw me off because I would stop focusing on the music I was playing, but it also robbed me of the ability to screw up and fix it on the next rep because it stayed in my head. Hearing them say that gave me the reassurance that it’s alright to mess up as long as you get back in it, and you fix it in the next rep. So, while it doesn’t seem like much, those words helped build my confidence in my playing ability because it allowed me to mess up and fix it. Them getting more upset at me looking at them because I messed up rather than getting upset because I messed up, helped to remove any worries and allowed me to be human and mess up sometimes, because I know they have confidence in my ability to correct myself.

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