SPRING CREEK — Four months ago he was just another one of the grunts in the trench — an offensive lineman for the Spring Creek football team.
His job was dirty and without glory. Pushing or blocking, he either protected the quarterback or opened lanes for the running back, the real stars of the show.
If things went right, the stars would get the credit. If things went wrong, he’d be one of the first to blame, a behind-the-scenes worker with one of the dirtiest uniforms on the team.
He’s a picture of high-school machismo.
Four months later, with the football season a distant memory, things couldn’t be more different.
It’s a regular season home contest between Battle Mountain and the home town Spring Creek basketball teams. This time, he’s the star of show, doing what he loves, and everyone’s eye in the stadium is upon him.
Only one caveat: Spring Creek junior Austin Cummins is free-style dancing amidst a gaggle of cheerleaders during the halftime routine.
He’s one of them, the only male cheerleader on the team. He’s cheering for many of his former football teammates, who are now on the boys basketball team.
One of a kind
The journey from an offensive lineman on a football team to high school cheerleader isn’t a common one. After all, Rudy made his start on the Notre Dame practice squad, not on the cheerleading squad.
However, for a multi-talented and confident high schooler like Cummins, the choice was not only obvious, but necessary.
“I play football. It’s always what I’ve done. I love the sport. I’m very active and it’s just my favorite thing to do really,” Cummins said. “I’ve been dancing my whole life, and the fact that I’m a good dancer and was put on the cheer team, it worked out well.”
This isn’t the first time Spring Creek has had a male cheerleader, but it’s the first time one has stayed with it through both the football and basketball seasons, said cheerleading coach Alisa Pirtle. She is in her eighth year as head coach of the varsity squad.
The Elko cheerleading team has had a handful of male members in its time. According to Elko cheer coach Penny Wilson, the team has had five male cheerleaders and they all came from the football team.
However, in the case of Cummins, he’s out there by himself, breaking new ground in Spring Creek.
“From what I’ve seen in school, he handles it very well. He’s very secure with what he’s doing. He’s doing what he likes and that’s the most important thing,” said Randy Bishop, Cummins’ offensive line coach in football. “He doesn’t let anyone turn himself into something he’s not. He wants to do what he wants to do and he’s doing it.”
Bishop said he notices Cummins amidst the cheerleading team. As the only male cheerleader, it’s hard not to notice him. However, what he notices is that he stands in cheerleading line confidently, not shying away from the crowd or his friends when they walk by him.
The fact that he started out on the football team has only helped him.
With his starting role on the football team and his outgoing, confident personality, Cummins has enough friends to make the transition. Friends who already know him and won’t judge him from a distance.
“There are always skeptical kids out there, judgmental of the stereotypical male cheerleader — might be gay, might be not — and I’m not,” he said. “Being on the football team really has helped me out a lot. If I didn’t have as many friends as I do, this would be a lot harder than it is.”
They also know that he definitely has an aptitude for cheerleading.
Cummins started dancing when he was 6 years old and living in Reno. He was a “little more gangster back then” and he learned his first steps from his siblings.
Later, he would learn more from watching videos on Youtube, dancing with other dancers and practicing, practicing and practicing.
His good footwork learned from dancing paid off on the football field in the fall and now it pays off on the cheerleading squad where he is the center of attention during the halftime routine.
As one of the smaller offensive lineman — he’s listed as 5-foot-9, 155 pounds — Cummins said he doesn’t receive a lot of glory on the field. As a cheerleader, on the other hand, especially at the beginning of the halftime show, he shines.
It’s a change from the offensive line where he can hide in a crowd, but he relishes the spotlight and the pressure especially “when things go right, just like everyone else does,” laughed Cummins.
It’s also what he loves to do.
“It’s a way to express myself. It’s a good crowd pleaser, I’ll tell you that much, and at school dances it’s a good way to get girls’ numbers.”
It’s his main signature and coincides with several other unique assets he brings to the squad as the only male.
Pirtle said Cummins brings a deep voice to the cheers and a unique energy and spirit to the female-dominated squad.
“One thing we love about Austin is he’s definitely an entertainer. He loves being in front of the crowd and he’s very good at beat boxing. So one of the routines we did is we incorporated some solos from him where all the girls surround him and let him do what he does best,” Pirtle said.
The free-style dancing, which he doesn’t practice but performs as a solo act in front of the whole crowd, is his principle reason for joining the cheer team.
Cheerleading captain Savannah Russell said he’s tried to share his dancing ability with the squad, teaching them how to shuffle, but it “didn’t really work that well.”
He also brings more muscle to the squad.
As the singular male cheerleader, he’s restricted to one-man stunts, but his strength helps provide a base as he lifts, many times, Russell up to around his shoulders, enabling her to complete a variety of different maneuvers.
According to Cummins, throwing around a 100-pound girl is easier than pushing or pulling a 200-pound lineman, but not by much.
“Football is definitely harder, but don’t take any credit away from cheerleading. It’s a hard sport, especially when you’re the only one and you have to keep throwing her,” Cummins said. “You can get strong from this, I guarantee it.”
At the beginning of each boys varsity game, the cheerleaders form a tunnel for the starters to run through as their names are announced for the starting lineups.
At the end of the tunnel stands Cummins, where he jumps in the air and chest-bumps with each of the starters.
He’s very familiar with all of the players as every one of the starters on the team played football. Typically, one of the last players called in the starting introductions is senior post CJ Borresch.
Borresch knows Cummins well, having played alongside him on the offensive line at left tackle. Now, of course, he’s being cheered on by Cummins from the sideline.
Borresch has never seen someone play on the football team and the cheerleading squad, and said there were initial questions on how Cummins could make it work logistically.
There was also what he called “simple guy talk,” good-natured jokes sent Cummins way.
However, he’s been enjoying having Cummins at the games, cheering him on.
“It’s great, like having a teammate with you all the time. It never ends. Cummins is a good guy. He never has anything bad to say about anybody. It’s nice having him around,” Borresch said.
He’s also glad he did it, so he could show others that the two activities could be intermixed.
Not talking about himself so much, Cummins calls it “breaking down that stereotypical wall and doing what you want to do,” as he encourages future male cheerleaders to join the squad.
That stereotypical wall gets broken down when students start doing what they want and not what their peers expect them to do.
For Cummins that’s dancing.
“From what you’ve seen from him, the guy can dance. I mean why not dance? If he enjoys doing that, let him do it,” Borresch said.