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He cried when he became a Popeyes meme. Now the restaurant sponsors him.


Nearly a decade ago, Dieunerst Collin enjoyed “Super Buddies,” a children’s movie with talking dogs, at home in East Orange, NJ with his mother. Then his sister texted with some news: a video of him went viral.

After Collin saw the clip of him looking angrily at a videographer at Popeyes, Collin burst into tears. The meme, which originated as a six-second Vine video, was filled with viewers rant comments about the 9-year-old, and Collin’s classmates later made him the butt of their jokes.

Collin has come to terms with the meme in recent years as he has developed a different identity through football, which he plays at Division II Lake Erie College in Ohio. This month, the 18-year-old used the popularity of the meme to sign a sponsorship deal with Popeyes that will link his name, image and likeness to advertisements.

“It was really hard at first,” Collin told The Washington Post. “But the family and friends I had told me, ‘Hey, this is going to be a good thing. You can really turn this around.’ Part of me is pinching itself right now.”

A spokeswoman for Popeyes confirmed the sponsorship deal, adding in a statement, “From memes to dreams, Dieunerst and Popeyes will once again grace social media feeds.”

In August 2013, Collin said his father, Evens, ordered a family meal of chicken from a Popeyes in Irvington, N.J. Collin said he filled his white cup with sweet tea and waited for his family to exit the restrooms. A man, who was recording a video on his phone, approached Collin.

The videographer believed Collin resembled Lil TerRio, who was popular for his dance moves on Vine before it was discontinued in October 2016. Collin didn’t know if the videographer was speaking to him or to the person next to him, he said, so he looked at the camera and glanced next to him before turning his eyes to the camera again. Collin said he dismissed the meeting as a joke.

About three weeks later, his sister, Everlyne, shared the video. People used the short clip to express reactions to awkward moments, such as seeing a teacher outside of school or being asked to work on weekends. As a fifth grader, Collin said classmates nicknamed him “TerRio” because he became known for the meme.

Collin said he felt accepted in high school two years later when he met new friends who hadn’t learned about the meme. In high school, Collin said, football helped him form his identity and belong. Collin’s teammates gave him a new nickname, “Killer Whale”, for his blocking on the offensive line.

“People started to know who I really was,” Collin said.

When Collin’s high school coach, Rae Oliver, heard about the meme, he said he invited Collin into his office. While he often internalized his emotions, Collin said, explaining his difficulties in overcoming bullying. Oliver said he saw an opportunity for Collin to turn the meme into a marketing opportunity.

After East Orange Campus won a football championship in December 2021, Collin posed for a photo with the trophy while looking sideways to mimic the meme. When an influencer asked Collin what he’d do after winning, Oliver said Collin replied, “Man, I want some chicken.”

At Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, coaches learned about the meme when they began recruiting Collin in 2021. dedicated to the small college in February 2022, the news about the new classmate spread among the students.

“I don’t think we counted on the light that Dieunerst was,” Lake Erie Coach Demir “DJ” Boldin said. “After we really got to know him, he’s one of the best kids ever.”

Collin, who is 6 foot 1 and 330 pounds, was given a red shirt in the fall to develop. Around January sporty personalities started connecting on social media Collin to the famous meme. Collin, who studies communications, tagged Popeyes in a Jan. 8 Instagram post where he wrote that he was ready to talk business.

Within a day, Collin said Popeyes responded. He danced around his dorm after making a deal, and Popeyes designed a billboard featuring Collin in Newark.

He is now the first Lake Erie football player to receive a paid sponsorship deal, Boldin said. Collin declined to disclose his wages, saying, “It’s a lot.”

“He accepts who he is,” Oliver said. “He’s been able to take the power of the negative side of it and turn that pain into profit.”

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