Camille Kostek talks Patriots cheerleading past, trying out for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue

Former New England Patriots cheerleader Camille Kostek has been eager to trade her pom poms for a bikini.

The 26-year-old is one of six finalists for the #SISwimSearch, a contest in which fans of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit issue can vote online to help choose the new rookies for 2019 rookie class.

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Kostek told Fox News she’s always envisioned herself as a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model and believes the popular magazine offers an empowering message for women.

“If I didn’t think I could be here, I wouldn’t do it,” said Kostek. “It’s been such a refreshing, exciting time for me to model and be represented by a company that embraces women of every shape and size. It’s been so nice to not have that pressure to change just to be on a runway show or photo shoot. That’s exactly what I stand for as a woman and a sister.

"I just want to send the best message possible to women. And I’m just so thankful because I honestly never thought I could model. I’ve always been told I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t thin enough. It’s motivating when someone tells you it’s possible to do something that seems impossible.”

The Connecticut native always knew she would be in the spotlight. As a child, she often put on shows for her parents, and by age 3 she was taking dance lessons. Then, by 7, Kostek was competing on a national level, but was ready to do more.

“I was always the little squirt in the back among all these tall girls,” she joked. “I always wanted to be a step ahead, but there were only so many routes you can go professionally… I loved watching football of all sports. My dad was a Giants fan, but the Giants didn’t have cheerleaders.”

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By 19, Kostek was training to cheer for the New England Patriots and joined the squad at age 20. She was one of 500 girls competing for 20 spots.

“It’s kind of tough to get noticed,” she admitted. “Sure, I can kick my leg over my head, but how do I get noticed? I remember designing my costume as close to their uniform as possible so they can envision me already a member of their team. It worked!”

But becoming a cheerleader in 2013 wasn’t as simple as an outfit change. Kostek insisted an eye-catching personality was just as valued.

“I remember seeing these stunning, stunning girls that were head-turning when they walked through the door,” she recalled. “They can kick and turn and do an entire choreography, but they may not have known about the team’s history or maybe they had a bad attitude… Once you’re on the squad, you’re representing a huge and reputable organization.”

And the training certainly wasn’t for rookies, especially when it comes to the Super Bowl.

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“We’re there five hours prior to a game day,” said Kostek. “So we’re there before even the players show up, practicing our routines. So it can be a 12-hour day sometimes, depending on how the game goes.

"We’ll be completely drenched in sweat, getting ready with hair and makeup and doing it all over again on the field. We’re performing in front of 70,000 fans, at least. Our coach does not allow room for error. And especially the Super Bowl -- there’s no messing around. You can’t mess up, slack around or have a nervous moment.”

Kostek said the no-nonsense lifestyle created a sisterhood. But she insisted that when it comes to the players, there’s no room for romance.

“It’s completely frowned upon,” said Kostek. “When you make the team, you’re completely two separate entities. Although you’re a Patriots cheerleader, you are not one team. As cheerleaders, we would be removed, cut from the team. It’s now allowed.”

Still, Kostek has been linked to tight end Rob Gronkowski since she left the squad in 2015 to pursue modeling.

“I am such a private person,” she explained. “It was hard at first when people would send articles with my name on it. It’s an overwhelming feeling to read something that you have no control over.

"But like most things, you get strong when you have to deal with situations like that. It’s gotten a little easier. And usually, the people that are close to you know the truth. So it’s one of those things where you just have to let people think what they wanted to think.”

Kostek also clarified, “We first got in touch once I resigned from the team. I always knew who he was before I was even a cheerleader. I knew who he was on the roster. I just never paid any mind. Once I resigned is when we finally met.”

But these days, Kostek is too busy pursuing the next chapter in her life to stress over online rumors. And she’s hoping it will kick off with Sports Illustrated.

“I knew I wanted to step in the modeling world,” said Kostek. “I never took modeling seriously because I was so busy with cheerleading.

"So I thought after the Super Bowl would be a good game to end it on. It was hard to say goodbye, but I knew that part of my life was over. I’ve been doing it since I was three. I was ready for something new. A new challenge.”