Last Thursday night was a memorable one for the Rice Owls football program. The team stormed into Tulsa as road underdogs and exited with a commanding 42-10 win — the program’s largest margin of victory over an FBS program since 2013.
Quarterback JT Daniels fired for 342 yards and a pair of scores, running back Dean Connors accumulated 120 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries, wide receiver Luke McCaffrey total 99 yards on six catches, and the defense forced three first quarter turnovers.
However, one other breakout star emerged in the Owls’ primetime nationally televised win.
A mysterious man donning a Rice football polo and hat suddenly entered the limelight. His eyes were concealed by sunglasses, but his look was unmistakeable — easily identifiable by the combination of a signature mustache and flowing ponytail.
A black rubber glove decorated his right hand, while his left toted a gallon Ziploc bag substantially filled with nothing but gummy worms. The black glove made several visits into the Ziploc bag, scooping up gummy worms like a machine and feeding them to a horde of Rice players on the sideline. It was similar to a scene observed at every high school, where a student hands out gum in the hallway between classes.
The mysterious candyman is Daniel Domian. As part of his duties, he hands out gummy worms, Sour Patch Kids, Sour Patch Watermelon, and Life Saver gummies to the Rice football team on a weekly basis. Domian’s distribution methods went viral last Thursday night in Tulsa, and he rose into stardom for simply performing one of his routine gameday tasks.
The video captured by Aaron Smith — an attendee of Rice’s game at Tulsa — rapidly made its rounds on social media, notably amplified by Barstool Sports and many of its affiliated accounts. The viral trend continued throughout the weekend as reigning Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams was also seen digesting gummy worms on the sideline during USC’s contest against Utah on Saturday. Even famed confectionery company Trolli contributed to the conversation, tweeting “#GummyWormGuy is a hero for all of wormkind” to Rice’s official football account.
“I’ve been doing this for the past seven or eight weeks and one dude with a phone just blew me up, so it was really crazy,” Domian said.
Mixing gummies with Rice
Although the college football community discovered Rice’s candy shop last Thursday, gummy worms and Sour Patch Kids have been a fixture on the Rice sideline all season long. But 2023 is the debut year for those snacks as part of the program’s gameday ritual. Prior to gummies, Rice attempted to implement other forms of nourishments to counter cramps and carbohydrate deficiencies which naturally occur during a football game.
“We’ve been doing something like this for all the years we’ve been here,” head strength and conditioning coach Hans Straub said. “We talk about cramping and always talk about hydration, but also understand it’s multilayered, multifactorial. So we have carbohydrate deficiencies when the game starts from the expenditures of the guys, so we were using applesauce, we were using plain Jane fruit snacks. After a couple years, it kind of got stale.”
Enter Morgen Cote, who was hired as the assistant strength and conditioning coach prior to the season. Cote, known as “Coach Mo” previously interned with the Rice football program in 2021 after graduating from Texas A&M in 2020. She is the mastermind credited with the idea of adding gummies to the gameday diet to offset this natural decline of carbohydrate and blood sugar levels.
“She kind of challenged us and was like, ‘Look, our guys have taste fatigue. They’re turning us down. We need to find something better,’” Straub recalled. “One day I was looking at the sideline and she’s handing out Sour Patch Kids and Sour Patch Watermelon and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m in line. Let’s go.’ And all the guys were really excited about it, and it just built from there.”
There’s a science to digesting gummy worms in the midst of a highly-demanding athletic competition such as football. Just like protein intake is essential to repair muscles after a weightlifting session, gummy bears are practical because they rapidly restore glycogen — the main source of energy in the liver and muscles — which is depleted from the body during a workout.
“It’s a simple sugar,” Straub said. “It’s easy to break down in the bloodstream and get to where it needs to go and elevate your blood sugar levels. It’s the same reason you don’t feed it to our kids before they go to bed, because they’re all hyped up, jazzed up. It can really have been any kind of simple sugar or gummy. You’re not gonna get gastric distress from eating a handful of gummies.”
Currently, several cabinets in Rice’s nutrition center are stocked to capacity with nothing but Sour Patch Kids, Life Saver gummies, and other candies. There are a variety of simple sugars Rice could have incorporated into its sideline nutrition program, but the Owls settled on gummies for a multitude of reasons — mainly, the optimal trade-off between cost and taste.
“Honey Stinger makes a gummy, but it’s insanely expensive,” Straub said. “For us it was like, we’re buying multiples of this product, so how can we be cost efficient with our budget and also get the same performance back from it? That’s why we looked at every gummy option on the market, and kids of that age group — they love that stuff. The science could be unbreakable, but if kids don’t want to eat it, they’re not gonna take it.”
The gummy distributor arises
Daniel Domian is a senior at Texas A&M University on track to graduate in December. Domian possesses strong interest in the realm of strength and conditioning and studies these subjects as a student in College Station. This semester, Domian is taking a 9-hour internship course at the end of his degree plan. His professor previously taught Coach Mo at Texas A&M and listed her as one of the supervisor options for the course. After learning about the opportunity and subsequently discussing with Coach Mo, Domian was beyond thrilled to work with the Rice Owls.
“I was really intrigued,” Domian said. “Going to a D1 football strength and conditioning room is not an option a lot of people have in this career world.”
His primary duties with the Owls involve setting up and breaking down workouts, as well as other general nutrition preparation around the athletic facilities. But after being the subject of a viral video, he is renowned as “the gummy guy.”
“Becoming the candyman was a part of the original duties I was given from Coach Cote,” Domian said. “She would usually do this position, but since I’m here now, she can get on the sidelines and help Coach Hans and the other strength coaches do the line checking, make sure everybody’s behind the line and whatnot, and other gameday prep. This is just me taking some load off the strength staff.”
Sixth-year senior left tackle Clay Servin is the most veteran starter on the team. He also doubles as Domian’s No. 1 customer, and is always a very appreciative one. Even head coach Mike Bloomgren is the occasional gummy taker, according to Straub. However, the most picky consumer is wide receiver Rawson MacNeill, who strongly prefers the circular Life Saver gummies and dismisses the other candies in the Ziploc bags.
“He always gives me a little face when I hand him a gummy worm or something. ‘Get this out of here,’” Domian said. “He just wants the yellow and blue. I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna dig through this bag, man.’”
While not as complex as the Riemann hypothesis, Domian indeed developed a formula to his distribution methods. He factors in variables ranging from time spent on the field to weight and position in order to deliver the proper number of gummies at a time.
“It really depends on how long a drive they just came off of and what position they are,” Domian said. “If it’s a really long drive, I’ll give them three or four and I’ll also give them applesauce or a pickle juice shot. If it’s a smaller drive, I might give them two. It really depends on who I’m giving it to or what they’ve just done. But linemen for sure, I give them at least three. But if it’s just a younger guy there on the sidelines, I’ll give him two or three every once in a while just to keep him alert.”
Domian is now the face of gummy distribution in college football. But what separates a good gummy guy from a great gummy guy? According to the candyman, there’s an ‘it’ factor, and he has it.
“You know, it’s really just God-given talent at this point,” Domian said. “You either got it or you don’t.”
Gummy worm gathering at Rice Stadium
Fresh off a signature blowout win at Tulsa, the Rice Owls return home to quite a challenge. Rice plays host to No. 22 Tulane, the only ranked opponent remaining on the schedule. The Green Wave are the reigning AAC and Cotton Bowl champions, vying to win their 11th contest in 12 tries as they travel to Houston.
Creating a homefield advantage against a program which hasn’t lost on the road since 2021 isn’t an easy task. Rice is currently working with the marketing department to create a lively atmosphere as the only ranked AAC team strolls into town. One project involves capitalizing on the viral moment and distributing gummies throughout Rice’s student section Saturday — even though Domian can’t be the distributor in the stands due to his gameday operations. Even Trolli might provide an assist, as the gummy manufacturer has reached out to Rice Athletics for a potential partnership.
“If our student-athletes can benefit from it and our student body can benefit from it, it will be awesome for us and everybody involved,” Straub said. “It’s exciting. It’s fun.”