The little girl in the photograph is at a time in her life when she is learning the alphabet, how to count numbers and remembering to use her “inside” voice.
But 5-year-old Meredith Hunnicutt already knows what she wants to be when she grows up.
A cheerleader for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The snapshot was taken in the fall of 2001. She is tailgating with her family at her first University of Georgia football game. She has a red bow in her hair, and she is wearing a miniature Georgia cheerleader uniform.
It is a hand-me-down from her older sister, Mary Kate, but that’s OK.
One day, she can swap it for a larger size.
At the Dawg Walk, when the football team makes its entrance into the west end of the stadium, she crouches between the fans and stretches her fingers to give high fives to players and cheerleaders.
Now, as a University of Georgia cheerleader, she seeks out every tiny girl she sees in a UGA cheerleading outfit as a reminder of herself.
Meredith Hunnicutt is living the dream – a dream that has followed her from the green grass of home to between the hedges of Sanford Stadium to the rose petals of Pasadena at college football’s most storied venue.
The junior from Macon is poised to make history. Less than half of the 50-member varsity cheerleading squad was selected to make the trip to the Rose Bowl, where Georgia has not played in 75 years.
She got the call.
The stage is big.
The stakes are high.
She may have to include pinching herself to her cheerleading routine.
This will be a three-day weekend of pep rallies, a trip to Disneyland, the No. 43 spot in the Rose Bowl Parade and, of course, Monday’s national semifinal game of the College Football Playoff.
Georgia and Oklahoma have never met on the football field.
Meredith has never been to California. In fact, the Rose Bowl trip is only the third time she has flown on an airplane.
Being a Bulldog is her pedigree. Her parents, Mike and Kim Hunnicutt, are long-time season ticket holders.
“My dad would wake us at 5 a.m., tell us it was game day and time to get up!" she said, laughing.
When she was older, she would “borrow” her father’s Larry Munson CD and listen to the legendary radio sportscaster’s memorable calls.
Run, Lindsay, Run. The Hobnail Boot. Look at the sugar falling out of the sky.
Her older sister, Mary Kate, was a member of the Georgettes and Dance Dawgs. She is now a cheer coach for the Mercer Bears, while studying at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta to become a physician’s assistant.
Younger sister Maggie, a fourth-grader, started playing the trombone this year. So, the Hunnicutts may not be finished with their run of Sanford Stadium Saturdays if Maggie sets her heart on marching in the Redcoat Band one day.
Meredith’s great-great uncle, Oliver Hunnicutt, played for the Bulldogs in the late 1930s and went on to become a legendary coach at LaGrange High School. His son, Pat, was a standout for the Dogs in the early 1960s.
By the time Meredith began cheering in the sixth grade at First Presbyterian Day School, she already had been in training for years. Her mother enrolled her in gymnastics classes at the Gym Nest in Macon, where she began bouncing, leaping and tumbling at the age of 4.
Seeing Mary Kate perform during UGA football games further inspired her to prepare for the opportunity to cheer at the only college she applied to – the University of Georgia.
“I would go to the games and watch her, and told myself I wanted to be out on the field just like that," she said. “My senior year of high school, I worked every day on cheering and gymnastics and keeping myself in condition."
Because college cheerleading squads have male partners, she began practicing with a group of young men at MGA Cheer Extreme, a competitive cheerleading school in Macon.
“The guys are always looking for girls to stunt with, and she was fearless because she was a gymnast," Mike said. “They loved the idea of being able to practice with her."
Meredith was one of only a handful of freshmen to make the UGA squad in 2015, and is now a three-year veteran in a season she describes as “special."
“Georgia has done well in the past, but there always was that doubt," she said. “We wondered when we were going to get our hearts broken. You look around this year, and all the fans are into it. It has been special."
The season began on a high note when she was chosen as part of the traveling cheer squad for the trip to Notre Dame. The cheerleaders drove the 725 miles from Athens to South Bend, Indiana.
“The history and architecture of that place was amazing," said Meredith, who is majoring in interior design.
Georgia’s victory against the Irish played a pivotal role in the way the season unfolded. But so did a moment in the opener against Appalachian State, on a play that ended up at her feet on the sidelines.
On the third offensive series, sophomore starting quarterback Jacob Eason was hurt on a late hit out of bounds at the Dogs’ 10-yard-line.
“It came right toward me, and I had to run out of the way," Meredith said. “It was so quick, like a flash."
Eason landed next to where she was standing and left the game with a sprained left knee.
Freshman Jake Fromm has been Georgia’s starter ever since.
Yes, that’s the same Jake Fromm her mother once taught in preschool at Vineville United Methodist Church.
Now, Georgia fans hope Fromm will be the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national championship since 1985.
“Growing up, I have always captured moments," she said. “Everybody makes fun of me when we travel. I take pictures of everything. I don’t want to forget it."
Just like the little girl in the photograph, forever cheering for the Dogs.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.