There’s a laundry list of child stars who grew up to struggle as adults, but it’s looking like Dieunerst Collin—who you might remember from going viral back in 2013 as a nine-year-old—is doing pretty well for himself.
In fact, Sports Illustrated reports that the former internet sensation became a New Jersey state champion football player on Sunday after his East Orange High School team capped off its undefeated season with a triple-overtime win.
For Collin, Sunday’s victory served as an opportunity to not only prove himself on the football field, but emerge from the daunting shadow of his internet superstardom. Especially since it was something he never pursued in the first place.
“When it first happened, I kind of felt sad about it,” Collin told Sports Illustrated. “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 time, the six-foot-one, 315-pound senior offensive lineman learned to use the situation as a catalyst for personal growth—even if that included having to avoid being recorded by strangers after being recognized in public.
“When I was in middle school, I had a couple of 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.”
To that end, “The Killer Whale,” as he’s affectionately called by his teammates, has since gone on to be named first-team All-Conference for his contributions on the field. And while his future plans include attending college and eventually working in sports media, he also hopes that his journey can help others who’ve dealt with bullying or uninvited attention.
“I would say just don’t take it so personal,” he said. “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 anymore. And stay close to friends and family. [...] You’ll also meet new people when you don’t take it as personal.”