Lara Rouillard was visiting Brazil in early December 2020 when she discovered that longtime New England Patriots cheerleading coach Tracy Sormanti had died after a three-year battle with multiple myeloma.
The news was a blow for Rouillard, who first connected with Sormanti in 2019 when she reached out to the coach to learn more about the team’s tryouts. Rouillard tried out to be a Patriots cheerleader in 2019 at the suggestion of Sormanti, though she ultimately didn’t make it through to the final round of auditions.
Although she wasn’t selected for the Patriots’ 2020 cheerleading team either — the franchise fielded a much smaller squad last season due to the National Football League’s strict COVID-19 protocols — Rouillard, a 2009 graduate and former cheerleader at Nauset Regional High School who now coaches the school’s cheerleading team, maintained her relationship with Sormanti.
The duo formed a bond over their love for cheerleading, and Sormanti was impressed by Rouillard’s passion for the Patriots and her willingness to share it with her friends and family in Brazil.
“When I went to Brazil to visit, I brought my close friends some Patriots stuff because you can’t find that in Brazil and they were all posting about it and the Patriots started noticing all of these people posting stuff,” said Rouillard, who lives in Harwich with her husband, Jon, and their 11-year-old daughter, Emanuelly. “When Tracy saw that, she messaged me on Instagram and was like, ‘This is all thanks to you.’”
In the months leading up to Sormanti’s death, Rouillard and the coach shared ideas about how they could expand the Patriots brand into South America. They even talked just days before Sormanti’s passing, so Rouillard felt especially motivated to make this year’s team and maintain the vision they had shared.
“I was like, ‘I have a mission here,’” said Rouillard. “When I walked in this year to auditions, it just meant something a lot more because I had talked to her and we had talked about all of these things that could be done with me on the team. I honestly feel like I have a mission and that is to keep growing the project that she wanted to grow.”
More than 300 people tried out for this year’s team. Rouillard advanced to the semifinals — when the group is dwindled down to roughly 80 people — and then the finals, another cut to about 60.
Of the 60 people who advanced to boot camp, 33 were picked to make the team. The third time proved to be the charm for Rouillard, who made the team and became the first Brazilian to serve as a Patriots cheerleader in the franchise’s 61-year history.
“We’ve had three Brazilian girls on the [Miami] Dolphins’ team, so I’m the fourth in the NFL but the first for the Patriots,” said Rouillard, who noted she’s the only Brazilian cheerleader in the NFL for the upcoming season.
While Rouillard has maintained her love for cheerleading since graduating from Nauset — she returned to Brazil at the age of 20 and helped found the Brazilian Cheerleading and Dance Confederation and served as a cheerleading director for Cruzeiro, one of Brazil’s prominent soccer teams — the Patriots have held a special place in her heart ever since her former Nauset coach, Jen Parks, began teaching her about the sport.
“I’ve been a Patriots fan ever since my coach Jen Parks would teach me about the Patriots when I didn’t even speak English way back then,” Rouillard said. “I’ve always been a Patriots fan. This is kind of hard to say, but I couldn’t see myself with any other [NFL] team and I never thought about trying out for anybody else.”
Rouillard said the Patriots cheerleading team practices two or three days each week in addition to attending Pats’ training camp sessions periodically throughout the summer.
She will continue to work at Nauset as the school’s cheerleading coach this fall, a responsibility she cherishes because it allows her to share her love for the sport with a new generation of cheerleaders.
“I feel like sharing my passion and also the discipline that has to go with it is very important,” she said about coaching at Nauset, where she graduated as Lara Magalhaes, her maiden name. “I think what they need is to really have that discipline and the mindset that they are good enough and that they can do it. Because if you look at me, I came here and I couldn’t even speak English and I fought through everything and became a Patriots cheerleader.”
“That’s why I want to be coach,” she continued. “I want to be an inspiration for younger people to really put themselves in my shoes and realize that it doesn’t matter where you came from, if you’re willing to put in the work and you’re willing to dedicate yourself and be disciplined and focused, you can achieve anything in your life.”
Nauset athletic director John Mattson said the school has benefited from having Rouillard return to coach.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Lara Rouillard to lead our cheerleading program,” Mattson said. “Not only does she bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, but she’s also a Nauset graduate, so she fully understands and appreciates what it means to be a Nauset Warrior. It’s been fun to watch her advance to the highest level possible of cheerleading, most recently with the New England Patriots. We are very lucky to have her on our staff.”
Rouillard said her drive comes from her parents, who she said overworked so that the family could move to America.
“I just feel like, still to this day, that I was living the American Dream because most girls my age at that time did not have the opportunities that I did and I felt very blessed and grateful that my parents were able to overwork and give me that opportunity,” Rouillard said of her time at Nauset.
She also praised her family for the support it has given her since joining the Patriots.
“My parents are the reason I was able to come here and my family has given me so much support throughout this NFL experience — which has been crazy,” she said. My mother-in-law, Nancy Rouillard, helps me so much. She comes to our house and watches our daughter.”
As Rouillard prepares to make her NFL debut when the Patriots host the Dolphins on Sept. 12 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, she can’t help but reflect on her journey from cheering at Nauset to the sport’s biggest stage.
“Cheerleading turned out to be one of the biggest things in my life,” she said. “I started cheerleading at 15 and I couldn’t stop. I’m a cheerleader now — I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to stop.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BradJoyal