Online Exclusive: Viks cheerleader recognized by S.I.

The opening day of Portland State football’s 2010-11 season was memorable for many PSU students. For some, it marked the beginning of their collegiate football career, and for others, it was a return to the field.

The opening day of Portland State football’s 2010-11 season was memorable for many PSU students. For some, it marked the beginning of their collegiate football career, and for others, it was a return to the field.

For 18-year old Jessie Keller, that game signaled her first time on the sidelines as a member of Portland State’s cheerleading team. But the freshman was unaware that a photographer covering the game would make that day even more memorable for her when he submitted Keller’s picture to Sports Illustrated magazine’s Cheerleader of the Week contest.

It was Sept. 4, and the Vikings were opening up the season in Tempe, Ariz., against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Keller, a new member of the cheer team, had the privilege to join the team in her first traveling game. The Vikings faced an uphill battle with their Pac-10 opponents, but the PSU cheerleaders did their best to keep the spirit alive on the sidelines.

As cheerleaders, the members of the team grow used to photos being taken by photographers covering games. But at that game in particular, Keller noticed one photographer who consistently focused on her. She didn’t know that professional photographer Bruce Yeung had scouted her during the game as a potential Cheerleader of the Week.

“I knew something was up when he just kept taking individual shots of me,” Keller said. “A week later, my coach got a call from the photographer asking me to fill out a survey because I had been selected as a possible candidate for Cheerleader of the Week.”

She says the news was hard to believe, and it was even harder to imagine the possible honor of being chosen.

“Although I was super excited, I doubted that I would get it because I was so young. But one morning I woke up to an email notification saying I got it,” Keller said.

Fresh out of Grants Pass High School, Keller had just made the move up to Portland from her hometown in southern Oregon. There could not have been a greater transition for this small-town girl when she decided to step outside of what she had always known and enter life in the city.

Last April, nearing the end of her senior year of high school, Keller made the decision to put all her effort and years of hard work into trying out for the Portland State cheerleading team. At the same time she was studying for senior finals and planning her graduation, Keller was also commuting eight hours a week from Grants Pass to Portland, making sure she had completely learned the needed routines and cheers to meet tryout expectations. Although this called for intensive time management and stressful pulls in all directions, none of it bothered Keller.

“I was really nervous, and if I didn’t make the team I wouldn’t know what else to do because I had put so much time into it,” Keller said. “I just wouldn’t know what to do if I ended up not making the team.”

Keller got the call that informed her she’d made Portland State’s cheer team the night after tryouts. Her relief in making the team was almost overwhelmed by excitement as she, her mom and her two best friends went out to celebrate over dinner at a local restaurant.

“I was bouncing off the walls, I was so excited,” Keller said.

Her mom, Lois Keller, said she will never forget the weekend that her daughter was trying out for the team.

“As a parent, you always want your child to be successful, but there was nothing we could do to help her; she had to do it on her own,” Lois said. “I will never forget when she ran out of the gym with her paper stating she’d made it. We were so proud of her. She did it.”

By the time practices began, Portland began to feel a lot more like home. The PSU cheerleader was meeting new people, discovering the city and creating close friendships with her fellow teammates and coaches.

The consistent effort Jessie had poured into cheerleading from the age of eight until now have paid off immensely. And although it has taken a lot of motivation on her part, she ends in telling that she gives a lot of the credit to her mom.

“My mom was the one who got me started in cheer when I was little, and she was also the one to make me follow through even when I wanted to just give up,” Keller said. “I’m so thankful she helped me realize just how much it pays off to stick with something that you’re passionate about.”

To view the Sports Illustrated photo gallery of Jessie at the Portland State at Arizona game, click here.