A 'mysterious' character turned 'worm god' – and a college football moment gone viral

On3 imageby:Eric Prisbell11/02/23


From Caleb Williams to Michael Penix Jr. and beyond, quarterbacks have authored their share of viral passing moments this season.

But the most viral hand-off

Enter the unlikeliest of characters – a Rice University strength and conditioning intern. 

As legend now has it, as Rice was pummeling Tulsa on Oct. 19, Daniel Domian was doing exactly what he had been doing on the sideline all season: handing out gummy worms to players during the game. 

The unique in-game snack helps offset cramps and carbohydrate deficiencies. Only this time, the hand-offs were captured on video. The rest is history, having gone down in gummy worm lore.

The video amassed 1.4 million views and counting. Trolli Candy, which makes the gummy worms, told On3 that the company has seen more than 13 million social impressions across the initial social videos and content, which includes posts from Trolli, Barstool, Rice athletics and Rice University.

A star was born – or at least college football’s first official gummy worm guy. As Sports Illustrated aptly put it, “not all heroes wear capes.”

Gummy Worm Guy a viral hit

But heroes can sport shades, a mustache, long hair, a tucked-in navy blue shirt, a hat and a right hand covered with a black glove, a sideline figure shrouded in mystery. That Damian is a self-described “mysterious character” on the sidelines only adds to the intrigue.

He may not be the proverbial “most interesting man in the world.” But on a garden variety college football Saturday, he cuts a fascinating figure.

And that he is handing players – of all things – gummy worms make it all the richer. The unique slice of college football sideline life captured the attention of fans far, far beyond the usual crowd who follows Rice’s football team. 

It speaks to how viral moments can come when and where they are least expected – even surprising the individuals involved. (See Los Angeles Chargers super-fan Merianne Do, whose animated, emotional fan reactions made for a far more interesting Monday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys last month.)

Trolli: ‘We knew we had to find this guy’

Here’s the Rice-gummy worm origin story in a nutshell: The Owls turned to the gummy worms this season to combat cramping during games after players grew tired of the same old applesauce and Plain Jane fruit snacks. So with little fanfare through the first six games, Domian continued to hand out gummy worms on the sideline, week after week.

Then a video changed everything. 

After the Tulsa game, Morgen Cote, Rice’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, first texted Domian the video and wrote, “Hey, you’re famous, kid.”

“I was like, ‘What?'” Domian later told the school’s website. “I just see me looking on the sideline like a mysterious character handing out some gummies.”

At that point, the video had some 2,000 views. By the time Domian returned to Houston, that number had grown to 30,000. 

Meanwhile, Trolli Candy noticed Barstool’s video post begin to gain traction – significant traction.

“We knew we had to find this guy,” Yezenia Gonzalez, senior manager, brand PR, Trolli at Ferrara Candy Company, told On3. “Trolli put out a CTA [call to action] on their Instagram story for our fans to help find this worm god of a human. Sure enough, the Rice associate AD [David Pillen] reached out and a worm connection was formed. It’s been a great collaboration.”

Pillen, Rice’s associate athletic director of external relations, told On3 that the university-wide attention garnered from the gummy worm guy has “certainly been a unique and fun experience but at the same time I am truly grateful for the exposure it has brought to our football program and its world-class student-athletes and support staff.” 

‘It has been a fun, quick win across our teams’

For last Saturday’s game against Tulane, Trolli sent Rice 2,200 ounces (about 137 pounds) of worms and another 1,100 ounces (68 pounds) of worms for the season. What’s more, the first 2,000 students at the stadium received free gummy worms. 

Trolli Candy is not an official sponsor of the team or athletic department. But it is reaping the benefits of the sudden surge in exposure. And company executives continue to have fun with the story – and the intrigue and affection fans have with the gummy worms. 

Gonzalez said their fans know Trolli as a “rule-bending sour gummy,” with the brand best known for its dual neon colors, bold flavors and soft and chewy texture.

“We’re a brand that embraces the unexpected, and Trolli gummy worms love mouths and love to be eaten,” Gonzalez said. “It’s great to see our worms finding college football players’ across the country. We hope to inspire other sports teams to adopt a worm god like the Rice Trolli worm guy. It has been a fun, quick win across our teams.”

Pillen concluded: “We’re looking forward to developing a better relationship with Trolli in the future. They’re a great partner in such a short amount of time to capitalize on this viral moment.”