'Two-A-Days' stars take divergent paths
A few weeks ago, Alex Binder was on a vacation cruise that landed in Belize. There, he accepted an invitation to zip-line over a jungle.
Fifty feet off the ground, the former star linebacker for Hoover (Ala.) High heard yelling in broken English coming from below.
"Two-A-Days!" a native yelled. "Two-A-Days!"
It had been more than three years since MTV's 28 cameras moved into the Birmingham suburb to film the popular reality show that debuted on Aug. 24, 2006. The public has not forgotten Binder, nor any of his co-stars from that first season, which ended with a fourth consecutive Class 6A football state title.
"I was floored," said Binder, who has seen both sides of the fame.
When he was arrested in the summer of 2006 and charged with breaking and entering a motor vehicle, it affected not only his family and friends, but also his new fans.
"They should know I didn't have my head on straight," Binder said. "I have everything worked out now. I know I let a lot of people down, and hopefully, I'll make it up to them."
With the spotlight turned off, the "Two-A-Days" cast has scattered. Two featured stars from Season 1 play college football -- receiver Cornelius Williams (Troy) and rover Max Lerner (Furman). From Season 2, Brandon and Byron Clear play at Clemson, while Michael DeJohn walked on at the University of Alabama.
To a man, players say they are different. Some, like Ross Wilson, the quarterback for both seasons, changed sports. He's a standout Crimson Tide baseball player.
Others, like defensive lineman Mark McCarty, changed the way they live. Once addicted to pot and pills, McCarty said he "gave my life to the Lord" when his mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. He kicked drugs and is thriving.
"I wish I would've been the way I am now on the show," McCarty said.
As for Binder, he left the Bevill State (Sumitom, Ala.) baseball team because of two shoulder surgeries and legal woes. Eyeing a return to the field, he works at a Birmingham car dealership, providing for his wife, Danielle (whom he met with cameras rolling), and their 10-month old child, Maria Grace.
Players looked back on "Two-A-Days" through different lenses.
"I loved being on TV," said Williams, a starter at Troy. "Just getting to know so many different people."
No complaint was big enough to spoil the experience.
"I just wish I would've had more fun with it," said Lerner, who has 36 tackles and one interception as a Paladins rover. "I kind of let it make me miserable."
Some aspects were a chore. Already in the spotlight as the younger brother of Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson, Ross Wilson was the only player featured in two seasons. He briefly considered whether he liked the show.
"No," said Wilson, who hit .295 with 15 home runs as a freshman second baseman. "Not at all. There were some parts that were fun not really. You never knew how they were going to portray you, so you had to watch. It turned out well, but it was a lot to worry about."
Players did some nitpicking. Wilson complained that even though he was the MVP of Hoover's game against Nease (Fla.) High and future Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, "They made me look like I was terrible."
The ever-present camera changed daily interactions: "People would say, 'Is this person acting this way because of the show?'" Williams said.
Geared toward MTV's audience, the dating scene received plenty of airtime.
Binder caused a controversy when he ended his relationship with Kristin Boyle (now an Alabama student) and began going out with his current wife. Wilson (who is still with Elliot Mayson) and defensive end Dwarn "Repete" Smith both said they kept their girlfriends away from the cameras, while Jonathan "Goose" Dunham complained that his friendship with Kristin was misrepresented.
"They tried to make it out as if I was trying to steal Kristin away," said Dunham, a former defensive lineman from Season 1 who lost 85 pounds and has a 4.0 GPA studying chemical and biological engineering at UA. "We are real good friends, and that's as far as it goes."
Then there was the focus on Hoover coach Rush Propst, a wildly successful, yet controversial figure. The current coach at Colquitt (Ga.) High, Propst resigned from Hoover amid allegations in his personal life and of a grade-changing scandal.
Propst provided one of the most indelible moments of the show with this remark to players: "Some of you guys think you scholarship worthy. Guess who holds that key? Ding!" Propst said, pointing to himself. He was criticized for cursing and yelling.
It was really cool at the time -- we took a lot from it, but you move on. You put it all behind
-- Byron Clear
"They didn't show him right," Wilson said.
Smith -- who played at Auburn for two days and is now a student at Jacksonville (Ala.) State -- was equally adamant.
"Everybody took things the wrong way about Coach Propst," said Smith, who is considering walking on at Alabama. "He'd scream and fuss, and I got four state rings on my fingers."
Such is the price of being famous, one might argue. None of the principals regretted doing the show. Neither did their fans.
Smith was in an Atlanta mall when a child ran up to him asking whether he was Repete.
"Then he ran off [yelling], 'That's him! That's him!' " Smith said. "Every day."
When the Trojans played at Ohio State, two opposing fans sought Williams out for a picture. Dunham said he grew tired of the attention, adding, "The show made me realize how much I don't want to be famous."
Michael DeJohn, a linebacker from the second season, which ended with a state-final loss to Prattville High, ponders the show only when his Crimson Tide teammates remind him.
"It's brought up every now and then, especially when guys are cutting up," said DeJohn, a 6-foot, 220-pounder. "It's one of those little things you're allowed to say in the locker room. It just brings back high school memories."
The Clear twins, who transferred to Hoover for one season, still sport Bucs gear. Particularly when MTV shows a marathon, the references return.
"They'll go, 'No, that's not you. You're not the twins from "Two-A-Days,"'" said Byron, a redshirt freshman defensive end. "Then we'll hear, 'You were on that show. The Clear twins!' But we want to be known for our own merits."
The Clears did see the positive side of it, too. They were starving for recruiting attention, so playing for Hoover "kind of catapulted things," Byron said.
The former Bucs are not above checking out an episode when it comes on TV.
"Brings that passion for the game back," Dunham said.
In the end, most appear ready to shout how much they've changed. No one more than McCarty.
His scenes often involved his then-girlfriend Brittany Benton, the cheerleading captain.
Though they are no longer dating, McCarty and Benton (now a UA student) stay in touch, unlike most of the characters.
Still, McCarty said, "I think they showed too much of my girlfriend and not as much who I am. I guess that's who I was at the time."
The summer after the second season, his mom's brain cancer relapsed after being in remission for nearly nine years. The prognosis was grim. Except that recently, doctors told McCarty they found no trace of the cancer.
"That's when I found the Lord," he said. "Completely gave my life to Him. I got rid of [the drugs] and found a new group of friends who actually care about who I am."
MTV recently attempted to follow up with the players and provide an update. All but Wilson agreed. "I'm just done with it," he said, though not bitterly.
That's the consensus. They embraced their own celebrity and appreciated the show, but they are slightly embarrassed about it. Most take no credit for their fame.
"It was really cool at the time -- we took a lot from it," Byron Clear said, "but you move on. You put it all behind you."
Ian R. Rapoport covers University of Alabama athletics for The Birmingham News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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