Meet the Popeye’s kid who became a viral meme and now won a state football championship

Francis Akhalbey December 08, 2021
Dieunerst Collin has landed a NIL deal with Popeye's -- Photos via @Jerseystar973 on Twitter

Dieunerst Collin unknowingly became an instant internet sensation some years ago after the then-nine-year-old was randomly recorded while he was standing in a queue at a Popeye’s. And though that video has been unabatedly used as a meme, the circumstances surrounding how it came about impacted him.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Collin recalled how he felt about the video when it came out. “When it first happened, I kind of felt sad about it,” he said. “It was somebody randomly recording me, and I’ve never been viral before. When it first came out, I would take it as bullying, every time I used to hear ‘Oh, Terio, Terio,’ and that’s not my name … a couple weeks later, I figured out it was me based on the video. I got kind of emotional, cried a little bit.”

But he’s moved on from that episode of his life. And last Sunday was a manifestation of that as he was part of the East Orange High School football team that won New Jersey’s state championship. Their triple-overtime win also finished off an undefeated season.

Sunday’s victory was also a gratifying one for Collin especially when he’s had to move on from a childhood experience he never wanted in the first place. The state champion said he was subjected to bullying after he became an internet sensation. But he said he eventually came to terms with the video and decided to just be himself. That played out for him.

“When I was in middle school, I had a couple people say things like, ‘You’re Terio, you’re a meme,’ and it was all the high schoolers…,” he said. “People in my class found it very funny, so then I just continued being myself. I got over it once everybody who would randomly come up to me and call me Terio actually met me and learned my actual name and got to know me, that’s when I got over it.”

Though Collin said he’s unsure of his football future, he said he has set his sights on attending college, adding that he also wants to later pursue a career in sports media. He said he hopes his story can motivate people who have also experienced bullying.

“I would say just don’t take it so personal, because when I did take it personal, I did get to a place where it was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to go out any more,’” he said. “And stay close to friends and family … you’ll also meet new people when you don’t take it as personal.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 8, 2021


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