On the morning of Valentine’s Day Jerry Harris is feeling the love. One of the breakout personalities from Netflix’s sports documentary, Cheer, is still riding high from his interview duties on the Oscars red carpet five days ago.
The peppy cheerleader for Navarro College was tapped by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to interview Hollywood’s boldfaced names at the 92nd Academy Awards, just the latest in a string of appearances he’s made since the show aired in January.
Harris’s boisterous personality still breaks through the fog in his voice over the phone. He giggles with delight as we confirm that I am the first fellow ‘Jerry’ to interview him. It’s this infectious enthusiasm that has earned him a legion of fans, along with his “Mat Talks,” loud and intense bursts of support for his teammates.
His magnetic personality made him an ideal correspondent for The Oscars, and as we found out in our interview for BET.com, Jerry is a natural at anything that involves people, but cheerleading will always be his first love.
What was it like working that Oscars red carpet for Ellen? I’ve worked red carpets and you were a natural.
When I first found out, I was very shocked because I never thought that I would get this type of opportunity. And as I was getting close to it I thought it was going to be more so me getting helped out a lot. But when I got there it was me doing my own thing. And I was just like “Oh, ok.” It felt completely different than what I expected it to be. But it felt great knowing that I was able to handle it well and do my job so good. I love the experience. I felt like I had great guidance from Ellen’s team. Just being there it was so much fun and it didn’t really feel like I was that nervous. I thought I was just doing my thing.
You’ve obviously become famous for your mat talks. What is the key to supporting your friends and teammates? What makes a good mat talk?
Enthusiasm and my projection to other people. When I do it, it startles them at first because they’re not used to it. But once they catch on to what I’m saying, they get the motivation. I think it’s the way I project and the enthusiasm that gets them excited for it.
I understand that you’re coming from a class now. How are you managing school, cheer and all of these fun extracurriculars like ‘mat talks’ at offices?
This year I have more online classes, which is convenient. So, I’m not missing that much of school. I’m good at time management. That’s something that [coach] Monica teaches us from when we first get here. So, I just schedule everything. If I practice from like 12 to 3 I’ll do my homework in the morning time, or do it right after practice. I do a good job of planning out what I have to do for the day.
That’s great. Part of the series talked about your weight-loss journey. What’s essential in a cheer diet?
An essential in a cheer diet is definitely water. Lots and lots of water. Protein, too. Because you don’t want to lose any of your muscles. At all. Working out and lifting weights is an important part too. I think that’s it. Water, protein and working out.
I was watching pyramid practice and it felt like a metaphor for life, having to secure your foundation in order to build upward. What’s a life lesson that you’ve taken from Cheer?
Ooh. A life lesson that I’ve taken from cheer is that you always have to keep working to get what you want. And if you aren’t able to get exactly what you want, you have to work that much harder to get it.
Do you have a favorite Cheerleading movie?
My favorite Cheerleading movie is definitely all the Bring It Ons, but my favorite is the first one with Gabrielle Union up in there.
Have you had a chance to meet her yet?
I haven’t. I was going to see her at the Vanity Fair party in L.A. but I think they had left before I got there. I’ll come across her eventually.
And I know you’ll have a great mat talk for her. What would you say to her?
I would just scream that she’s doing amazing and that she’s everything and more. I just love her. Oh my gosh.
Your coach Monica has an alter ego named Annette. Do you have an alter ego?
Um, no. [laughs]. I do not have an alter ego. What you see is what you get.
There isn’t anything quite like what you do after college. Do you have plans for life after cheer?
My ultimate goal was to be a cheer coach after I got done cheerleading. I love cheer so much and I don’t want to leave the sport. But I’m open to see where life takes me at this point. Because it’s just been opportunity after opportunity.
What has been the biggest change in your life since the series aired?
The biggest change in my life would have to be all the love and support that I’ve been getting from all these people and them literally coming up to me anywhere I go and it being random people. I’m used to people coming up to me, but at a cheer competition. But regular people who have seen the show come up to me in [public] places and show so much love and support to me and it’s really sweet.
Your championship ring is ballerific. Do you have a special place in your house that you keep it?
I keep my rings on the shelf.
Wait. You said rings, plural. How many do you have?
Six. I have two from Navarro--from last year and the year before. And then I have four other ones from my club team outside of Navarro.
You have one stone for each finger. So, you’re the Thanos of cheer?
[Laughs.] Yes. It’s all a blessing.
In the show you talk about how much of an inspiration your late mother was. My own father passed two years ago and I have a dress shirt of his that I wear. Do you have any rituals or keepsakes from your mom?
I pray to her a lot and I have a pillow with her face on it that I use a lot. One of my cheer moms made it for me the first Mother's Day after she passed away. So that was her gift to me.
For people finished with season one, what’s a message you want to send for next season?
We don’t know for sure if there is going to be a second season of Cheer yet. But for people that want there to be, I would tell them to keep showing us the love and support and keep expressing how much you love what you saw. If enough people do that we’ll get another season of Cheer.
The people are gonna riot if there isn’t another season. And you need to come by the BET offices to give us some mat talk!
Yes! That sounds like so much fun.
'Cheer' is streaming now on Netflix.
(Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)/ Netflix