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Riverhead youth featured in Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick ad

A Riverhead Middle School student who made highlight reels in 2016 for an improbable one-handed catch in a PAL football game is featured in Nike’s upcoming commercial with controversial NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The catch, which was captured on video, turned Riverhead’s Korey “KJ” Duff Jr. into a bit of a viral sensation after it was shared across social media and on ESPN. The highlight appears 37 seconds into the commercial, which is narrated by Kaepernick and will reportedly make its television debut during Thursday night’s NFL season opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons.

“Don’t picture yourself wearing OBJ’s jersey, picture OBJ wearing yours,” Kaepernick says as Duff makes the catch, a reference to Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has made a healthy living out of making routine circus catches. Beckham himself once shared the video of KJ.

Duff, who just started seventh grade and plays junior high football for Riverhead, made the catch as a 10-year-old with the PAL team in Longwood, where his father lives. Teammate KK Corbett of Riverhead was the quarterback who threw the pass.

Korey Duff Sr. said representatives for the advertising agency first reached out to him about featuring KJ in a campaign last month. The original plan was to fly KJ out to Los Angeles to recreate the highlight for the commercial, though there was some concern it could impact KJ’s future eligibility with the NCAA should an opportunity to play college sports one day present itself.

“Finally they just said they’ll use the original video,” Duff Sr. said.

The father said he had no hesitation granting permission for his now 12-year-old son to appear in the advertisement, even after he gained a better understanding of the controversy in recent days.

“There’s no hesitatation with a company like Nike, who would have never shown my son in a bad light,” he said. “I was all for the cause.”

The commercial is part of the much-hyped ad campaign Nike announced this week with Kaepernick, who started a trend among some NFL players of kneeling during National Anthem ceremonies in protest of incidents of police brutality against minorities. The quarterback, now a free agent with an active collusion case filed against the league last October, shared the full commercial on Twitter Wednesday with the tagline for the campaign.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt,” he wrote.

The polarizing marketing effort has received massive media attention since it was announced Monday and has led to protests of some who have called for Nike to distance itself from the embattled former Super Bowl signal-caller. President Donald Trump called attention to the campaign just hours before Kaepernick shared it, saying Nike is getting “absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.”

Still others, particularly fellow athletes, have ramped up their support of the quarterback, who has been sponsored by Nike dating back seven years, according to reports.

Former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman said of the campaign and the apparel company, “they drew a line in the sand and chose what side they’re on long time ago. I can respect that.”

Duff Sr. said it wasn’t until Tuesday, one day after the advertising campaign was announced, that he knew for sure KJ was a part of it. As for the boy, he was excited to see himself portrayed in the ad, but he kept his usual cool.

Even when the video, which was shot by another parent, Gregory Tesoriero, first went viral, a 10-year-old KJ remained calm about it, his father said.

Suffolk County PAL president Anthony Williams said having a local youth football player involved in a major marketing campaign is great exposure for a sport that has seen a significant decline in participation in recent years.

“Right now we’re having issues fielding certain teams,” he said, adding that there are about 200 PAL teams in the county, down from more than 300 in the past.

In a bit of unintentional foreshadowing, Beckham Jr., who two years later KJ is compared to in the commercial, shared the video of the catch on his own Facebook and website.

Duff Sr. said Beckham Jr. is his son’s second favorite player behind Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. A two-sport athlete who has also played for Riverhead’s champion Little League baseball team, KJ hopes to continue playing both sports as far as he can take them, his father said.

“He loves both sports,” Duff Sr. said. “But he prefers football just a little bit.”

KJ, a tall wide receiver with some potential to play quarterback, will play junior high football for Riverhead this season after he returns from an ankle injury, his father said.

KJ played for Riverhead’s championship Little League baseball team this summer that reached the state tournament. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

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