Never Give In: How Mia Watkins Claimed Her Spot in the NFL

By Courtney Thompson

You’re talented, you’re in your element, and you give it your all at auditions day…but you don’t make the team.

This a pain many know too well. The disappointment can be daunting, especially when you are used to making teams and achieving your hard-fought-for goals.

But, when you’re facing “failure” while aspiring for a space on foreign ground, then how do you handle it?

You pick up the pieces and try again.

“If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.”  — Aaliyah

This is similar to the story of Mia Watkins, a 25-year-old from Fayetteville, North Carolina, entering her second year as a cheerleader for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Her journey to becoming an NFL cheerleader was no easy one, but it makes it that much more special.

“I started dancing officially at age 16 in high school,” said Watkins.

As someone with a “late start” compared to other aspiring dancers, it may seem like the odds were against her. But, Watkins is literally born to thrive — she was a natural and quickly rose in the ranks as a performer.

Watkins attended the University of Tampa, where she majored in dance was on the Spartan Scarlets Dance Team for two years.

Hungry for success and to actualize her dreams, she decided to audition for a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during her senior year.

“The first time I auditioned, I made the finals,” Watkins said. “In the midst of finals, I realized I was not prepared at all. I wasn’t prepared for the auditions. I wasn’t prepared for the interview. I didn’t research the team, I didn’t really know the coach.”

Not only did Watkins not make the team, but she auditioned three more times before finally being offered a spot.

She’s like many professional hopefuls who were loaded with talent, but who had to learn to navigate the system on her own. It took wit, craftiness, and social connections to reinvent her brand and reach her goals.

“I learned how to model to help with the photo shoot part of the audition,” Watkins said. “I researched the team. I got a personal trainer. I partnered up with other women that were planning to audition so we could prep together.”

Watkins is now a proud Buccaneers cheerleader, in addition to working full-time and pursuing a two master’s degrees in criminal justice and public administration.

Juggling all these hats is not easy, but Watkins makes it look effortless. A huge proponent of time management, she takes classes online to leave enough room in her schedule for work, practice and self-care.

Watkins is a walking example of the multifaceted efforts it takes to make it to the next level, what THRIVE strives to decode and support for others. Through her inspirational plight, she is also a walking story of motivation, tenacity and hope.

The takeaway: don’t stop at no.

“If you do want to pursue dance or cheerleading, do your homework and research,” Watkins says. “Make sure you know everything about the team that you want to join, even if it’s a high school dance team or college dance team. Make plans to get it done.”