Stephanie Masciulli shares something in common with the football players she cheers for Friday nights in the fall.

Most of the players began their football careers between the ages of 5 and 7. The Holy Spirit High School senior started cheerleading at the same time.

“Just like them, it’s something that I love to do,” said Masciulli, 18, of Egg Harbor Township. “I have such a passion for it. It just means a lot to me.”

The focus is on blocking, tackling and touchdowns Friday nights and Saturday afternoons during the high school football season. But high school cheerleaders and bands put just as much time and preparation into what they do as the players on the field.

On Friday nights, The Holy Spirit cheerleaders are on the sidelines right next to the players. They lead the crowd in cheers of “Defense!” and “Block that kick!”

Bands are a big part of the atmosphere at games. The Millville band plays the school’s Fight Song after a Thunderbolt touchdown. The band entertains the crowd with a number of songs, including “Uptown Funk” and “Gangnam Style.” The band is quiet when Millville has the ball but plays loud and long when the opposing offense is on the field to make it hard for it to hear its signals.

Colleges offer cheerleading scholarships, just like football. Some cheerleaders even put together their own highlight videos to attract the attention of college coaches. The highlights show the cheerleaders’ best dance steps and acrobatic stunts.

“Everyone says cheerleading is not a sport,” said Spirit senior cheerleader and Brigantine resident Shelby Kott. “But when we perform, we’re putting so much effort and work into it when we’re lifting the girls, dancing, cheering, jumping.”