The path to internet stardom can be instantaneous, jarring and, for some, unwanted. That was the case for Dieunerst Collin, who at nine years old was the focal point of a viral video while standing in line at a Popeyes. Collin's side-eye gaze has lived on in internet lore, even if he never wanted to attain internet fame.
"When it first happened, I kind of felt sad about it," Collin 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. Over the years, I got over it.”
On Sunday, Collin's path took a turn for the victorious, as his East Orange High School (N.J.) team won the state championship in a wild, triple-overtime thriller to cap an undefeated season.
The win is a culmination of sorts for Collin, who says it was difficult to grow up under the shadow of a viral internet moment that led to frequent bullying from older classmates. Eventually, he learned to accept the video as something that would remain linked to him, and focused on connecting with others just by being himself.
“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…," Collin 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.”
Collin said he would get recognized even when traveling out of state, and got used to being recognized by strangers—though he kept an effort to avoid being recorded by people he didn't know, which he still found "very weird."
As for what comes next, Collin is still figuring that out. His football future is uncertain, but he plans on attending college and has sights on working in the sports media field after getting his degree. He also hopes his story can help others who have had to deal with bullying overcome those obstacles.
"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,'" Collin said. "And stay close to friends and family ... you'll also meet new people when you don't take it as personal."
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