Wednesday, October 10, 2007
By La Tonya Frelix
Like thousands of South Mississippi residents, Nicole Ferand loves to watch the New Orleans Saints play football.
Ferand, 21, is a second-year Saintsation cheerleader. Her view of Saints' home games is from the sidelines of the New Orleans Superdome.
"I love the Saints," she said. "I've always been a fan. Being on the field is one of my favorite parts. Before the game, we always go out to meet the fans. It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work, a lot of time and dedication."
Ferand is one of three cheerleaders featured on the cover of the 2008 New Orleans Saintsations Swimsuit Calendar. She's also featured as the June Saintsation. The 12-month calendar is packed with high-quality photos featuring this season's Saintsations modeling the latest swimsuit fashions, the New Orleans Saints Web site says.
Ferand and the 26 other Saintsations, including Petal resident and University of Southern Mississippi student Suzannah Ledford, practice twice a week, make numerous public appearances and must be at the Superdome four to five hours before each home game.
The New Orleans Saints Web site says the Saintsations have traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit troops, appeared on the Dr. Phil show, 2006 Comic Relief Live television show and supports community projects through the "Saintsations Inspiration Program."
The primary focus of this season's program is to promote positive initiatives geared toward women and children.
Before kickoff, the women go through an on-field practice, have their hair and makeup professionally done, meet fans, sell Saintsations calendars and perform a pre-game routine. They also perform after the first- and third-quarters of football games.
Ferand said she most likes interacting with fans.
"I get 'Call me!' a lot," she laughed. "I've never really had an incident. I've never felt uncomfortable."
Ferand, who has been dancing since she was a toddler, was co-captain of her high school dance team in Chalmette, La.
"I started taking lessons when I was 3 years old," she said. "When I got to middle school, I was captain of that dance team. At Chalmette High School, I was a Charmer. We were state champions all four years and national champions twice."
She first auditioned for the Saintsations in spring 2006.
"I tried out with a friend," she said. "We had to do a dance, professional interview, a test on current events and NFL knowledge. I made it last year and tried out again and made it this year."
Chuck Abadie, PRCC public relations director, said Ferand is well- known around campus. As a commuter student who goes between home, school and practice in New Orleans, he said she is talented.
"It takes a special student who has to plan her day out and doesn't get overwhelmed by it," he said.
Ferand's personal attention also shines a light on PRCC.
"We're enrolling more and more students from Louisiana and the recognition Nicole receives as a PRCC student can only help get the word out about the college," he said.
Abadie said she isn't the first to receive national attention, noting several years back, several students performed during the Super Bowl.
"She's just another in a line of students who have brought positive recognition at Pearl River Community College," he said.
Ferand's path to Pearl River started after Hurricane Katrina demolished the family's home in Chalmette. Her family - parents Kenny and Kellie Ferand and younger siblings Amanda and Zakary - lived in Natchitoches, La., New Roads, La., and Baton Rouge, La., but have settled near Perkinston.
"We're here for good - we like it a lot," she said.
Ferand attended Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond last year but the two-hour commute was too much, she said.
An elementary education major, Ferand plans to return to Southeastern or enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi after earning an associate's degree at Pearl River.
"I definitely want to teach. I want to teach in public school," she said adding she hopes to start an elementary-school spirit group or dance team wherever she teaches.
Besides classes and commitment to the Saintsations, Ferand's schedule includes a part-time job at a Slidell restaurant. She pencils in study time in her planner.
"On Sunday night, I plan my whole week out," she said. "It keeps me on my toes."