BY CHRISTIANNA CASALETTO // MAY 1, 2017 //
Traditionally, when we think of football and cheerleading we think of two separate groups; one playing the game and one hyping the players up.
However, football and cheerleading have more similarities than you’d think. Both groups have an element of intense competition going into battle fiercely and confidently; one with eye black dripping intimidatingly down their faces, the other with a smile and spirit fingers. Both must take on the weight of another human body full force. For football it means defense, blocking an attack with your own body weight. For cheer, it means holding the weight of another human and not letting go; or at least if you let go to release a stunt or basket-toss, you must be able to catch them again. Both value good timing, whether it means throwing and catching a ball or throwing and catching a stunt.
But what if the football player and the cheerleader were the same person? Dylan Vieira-Owens is both.
Raised in Everett, MA, Vieira-Owens spent his days in the city parks where he played basketball with other kids in the urban and over-crowded neighborhood, developing a competitive nature from an early age. Those in the area know that Everett is ultra-competitive in sports, and always the team to beat.
“Sports are always competitive and kind of gave me a drive to be the best and a drive to keep competing and reach the level of success because Everett is known for its extreme success in football,” said Vieira-Owens. “I was always pushed to match that.”
Right before his freshman year in high school, Vieira-Owens moved to Stoneham – a city much different than the one he was used to. While he describes Everett as “a lot of people stuck in one place,” he could feel a change of atmosphere in the roomy, comfortable, suburban Stoneham.
“It was definitely a lot more spacious, we actually had a backyard. You could go and play in the street and stuff and you didn’t have to worry about anything.”
One thing that drastically changed for Vieira-Owens was a sense of victory and being a champion; Everett is recognized for its successes in football while Stoneham is recognized for its struggles. In 2010, Vieira-Owens’ freshman year, Everett finished with a 12-0 record and ranked no. 1 overall in Mass. while Stoneham went 0-11, according to CBS Sports MaxPreps.
“I came from Everett and growing up we never lost a regular season game in my life…and then coming to Stoneham who was on a two year losing streak and never winning a game.”
A lacking football record only lit a fire in Vieira-Owens, driving him to be the best in the game. In 2014, his senior year, Vieira-Owens as captain led the Stoneham High School football team to a 5-6 record, improving the team’s turnout by nearly half. And if being the best in football wasn’t enough, he also played baseball, basketball, and ran track. Additionally, he found a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood in sports, focusing more on teamwork rather than strictly winning games.
But Vieira-Owens never expected that he would be taking on another sport – cheerleading.
In his sophomore math class, a classmate who was involved both with Stoneham high cheering and Bravo All-Stars in Wilmington, MA proposed a bet after some teasing and sarcastic views on cheerleading were expressed.
“She challenged us that we wouldn’t be able to learn a backflip so she told us to come to an open gym and ended up learning how to do backflips.”
However, this wasn’t Vieira-Owens’ first encounter with cheer. His mother had coached Somerville youth cheer teams and exposed him to the world of cheerleading at a young age. But his experience following that spontaneous bet is what ultimately led him to a newly discovered passion.
“I kind of fell in love with the whole competition, I wanted to learn like ‘alright I got this new skill, I have this new challenge, I want to keep growing in it and learning about it…and then it kind of just took off from there.”
Soon after he began cheering for Full House All Stars in West Bridgewater, MA as well as Bravo’s senior team, all while still participating in his vast multitude of additional high school sports. Cheer was utilized not only as a recreational activity, but a way to develop skills that would help him in all other sports and get into what he describes as “the best shape of my life.”
Vieira-Owens compares cheerleading to CrossFit, in that it is high-intensity and trains a variety of muscles in a variety of ways. A cheerleader will perform a variation of exercises in one routine, such as lifting someone into a stunt, tossing and catching another person, throwing a tumbling skill, different jumps, all while having a face and attitude that is performance and entertainment ready. It’s a sport that requires practice, precision, and perfection.
“It demands a lot from every part of your body.”
Football on the other hand is all about adapting, as Viera-Owens explains. You train and practice to know your plays and roles on a team, but you can never truly know what to expect from your opponent
Following high school, his Bravo coach, Bryan Ayuk, urged Vieira-Owens to try out for the Celtics Green Team – a performance team put together to hype up the crowd and get the fans excited during home games. Ayuk, a former Green Teamer himself, thought Owens would be a good fit.
“[Ayuk] was the guy who introduced me to cheering and really took me out and kind of mentored me.”
He went to an open tryout for the 2015-16 Green Team and upon arrival discovered the multiple things that were expected for someone to be eligible to make the team.
According to the responsibilities listed on their website, Green Team members over-see and participate in promotions and giveaways during games on behalf of the Celtics franchise, performing routines that include expert tumbling and stunting. The team typically consists of around 18 members, both male and female, who have experience in cheerleading, tricking, and acrobatics.
Additionally, Vieira-Owens was asked to do a multitude of things during his tryout. First, he had to cover up any and all tattoos, which was tough considering he has a sleeve of tattoos on both of his arms. He needed to be clean-cut and have a presentable hairstyle because, “at that level it’s more about the show than the actual skill.”
However, in terms of skill, those trying out had to be able to throw a stunt, throw a tumbling pass, and then practice hyping up the crowd; which in this case was others waiting to tryout themselves.
“As far as the skill level it wasn’t too demanding it was like…stuff that somebody should know and have obtained by that time in their cheerleading career.”
Following his tryout, Vieira-Owens was given a spot on the team which led to perks such as Celtics gear, headshots and photoshoots posted online, a new and different experience with cheer and gymnastics, and the opportunity to perform for and meet with celebrities and idols.
Some of the notable public figures Vieira-Owens has performed in front of include actor and Boston native Mark Wahlberg, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and a number of other celebrities who add a little more star-power to the glitz and hype of a Celtics Basketball game. He even made an appearance on former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount’s snapchat story and sat next to boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather during a game; getting a glimpse of the infamous duffel bag of money.
Imagine being not only court-side but literally on the court, highlighted with green and Lucky the Leprechaun at center court winking back at you, as if to give you the luck of the Irish before each home game. Over 19,000 seats filled with fans waiting to be wowed. Fans who have stuck with the team through good times and bad. The same team that has been in possession of basketball legends like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce – to name a few. Being the direct source to hype up the crowd and motivate the team to victory; watching the journey up close and personal as the Celtics finished the year at 48–34, which was a vast improvement to previous seasons.
“Growing up being a Celtics fan it was just awesome to me seeing all the legends…and then also being able to watch the Celtics grow because that year was such an exciting year.”
Vieira-Owens was only a member of the Green Team for that one season and is currently taking a break from cheerleading altogether. He is now focusing on his Criminal Justice major, is a Resident Assistant, and is a wide receiver for the Curry College Football team; which he finds similar to the Stoneham High School team – both in weak records but a strong sense of brotherhood.
“We came in as freshman and really wanted to make a difference kind of like what we did here at Curry,” said Vieira-Owens. “Curry wasn’t that bad but still not really that great so it was kind of like a way to push myself to strive to be great.”
When asked what sport he’d choose over any other, Vieira-Owens responded with no hesitation or thought necessary, “Football. Football has always been number one.”
“Everything I do, I do for football. I lift to get better at football. I did track to get faster for football. In a way, I did cheering to kind of make my body better…I heard of professional athletes doing yoga, cheering would be like my yoga, just more advanced and more physical.”