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From Happy Valley To Baltimore: Penn State Alumna’s Journey To Cheering In The NFL

Cheering for Penn State and dating a football player at the same time is something every girl dreams of. For 2021 alumna Alex Fleece, this dream became a reality.

These days, Fleece cheers for the Baltimore Ravens, while her boyfriend, Blake Gillikin, plays football for the New Orleans Saints. Talk about a ~power couple~.

The two met during Fleece’s freshman year after Gillikin reached out through a mutual friend to invite her to a party. Even though the party got canceled and the two never ended up connecting there, Fleece slid into his DMs about a month after.

Happily together now for almost three years, the couple’s lives are far from normal. Fleece is based in Baltimore, while Gillikin lives in New Orleans, but they don’t let that stop them from living their dreams. The pair have always been super passionate about self-growth and development and believe that this is the glue that has held them together over the past few years.

“We have a super healthy relationship in the way that we both want the best for each other, and if we know that we’re both our healthiest and feeling successful on our own, then we know we’re gonna be the best to each other,” Fleece said.

The Ravens and the Saints are slated to play each other in prime time on Monday, November 7, which Fleece thinks will be a “weird” experience. The first time it happened was during both of their first games of the 2021 preseason. That was Fleece’s first game as part of the cheer squad, while Gillikin was battling for the Saints’ starting punter job at the time.

“I cheered for him at Penn State, but we were on the same team then. Here, I was getting so excited for the other team. I was visibly excited for the Saints,” Fleece said. “Obviously, I want the Ravens to win, but I also want Blake to do well and for his team to do well.”

Fleece grew up surrounded by the sport of cheerleading. In fact, she followed in the footsteps of her mom, who was a member of the Ravens’ first cheer squad. Despite it running in her family, becoming an NFL cheerleader was never something she initially considered as a career path.

It was a trip to the Cotton Bowl during her junior year and a season cut off due to COVID-19 that made Fleece realize she wasn’t done shaking her pom poms just yet. After getting some inspiration by speaking one-on-one with some Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders at the bowl game, she decided to go full speed ahead with the audition process during the pandemic.

“I did a lot of training during COVID that I just really wanted to shoot for the moon and go for it,” Fleece said. “And I’m so glad I did.”

Trying out for the Ravens while also completing her senior year at Penn State was no easy task. Fortunately, she received the good news that she made the team shortly after graduating that May. 

In 2021, Fleece earned the Ravens’ Rookie of the Year, which is an award that speaks to her skill level, growth, and attitude. The sky is the limit for the remainder of Fleece’s sophomore season.

Being on the same NFL cheer team that your mom was on is not something many other people can say they’ve done. Her mom has always been her biggest inspiration and has always been involved with her cheer life.

“I always said I wanted to be just like my mom growing up, and now I am her,” Fleece said.

After cheering for the Ravens for just one year, her mom went back and coached cheerleading at her alma mater, Maryland, full-time. 

Fleece was born and raised as a Maryland girl and was pretty much set up to attend Maryland just like her parents once did. Ultimately, it was a dream of hers to cheer at one of the biggest schools in the country, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to get that at Maryland.

“I chose Penn State just because of the atmosphere. I went for one visit and it literally blew me away,” Fleece said. “The culture there is insane. I just love that Penn State and State College have their own community.”

Cheering for one of the best sports schools in the country and then cheering in the NFL is not the only thing Fleece has gotten out of the sport. The one thing she’s most grateful for is the people she’s met along the way.

Courtesy of Alex Fleece

“It’s super special to be able to do what you love and also make great friends throughout the process,” Fleece said. “I’ll be forever thankful for the girls I’ve met along the way. They’ll be in my wedding. They’ll be there for life.”

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About the Author

Emily Grill

Emily is a third-year broadcast journalism student from New Jersey. She likes to think that being Italian and 5 feet tall are her biggest personality traits. You can probably catch her at Chick-fil-A at least two or three days out of the week. Feel free to contact her by emailing [email protected]

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