A few years ago, Tyler Toney was playing basketball with Garret Hilbert, a high-school friend and fellow student at Texas A&M University.
They were playing on a grass court, so they couldn’t really play one-on-one, and they wound up playing a game of Horse in which they one-upped each other with trick shots.
A few friends got involved, and they all started making bets for sandwiches over trick shots. Someone decided to film everything and put it on YouTube. A couple of days later, they got a call from ABC’s Good Morning America asking about the video.
Thus begins the story of Dude Perfect, a quintet of Frisco-based friends (and one panda — we’ll get to that in a minute) that has nearly 5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel, has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Live With Regis and Kelly as well as Good Morning America, and has had athletes such as Johnny Manziel and celebrities such as singer-actor Tim McGraw approaching them to be in their videos.
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“We’d had a pretty good amount of views” on the first video, Toney says in a phone interview. “So it was viral enough that [Good Morning America] had people looking for viral videos and somebody stumbled upon it. They found it that way and picked it up.”
The first video was posted in 2009, and momentum has just kept growing since then. Some of the videos by the quintet — in addition to Hilbert and Toney (whose father, Jeff, is the group’s manager), the members are Cody Jones, and twins Coby and Cory Cotton — have as many as 20 million views on YouTube. As of April 23, there were 138 videos in all, and not just of trick shots: There’s also a series of comedic videos called “Stereotypes” in which the group mocks common behaviors in sports and culture.
The YouTube success is part of the reason for a late-April trip to New York.
“YouTube selected three of their top partners to highlight and market to a broader audience,” Toney says. “We were fortunate enough to be selected to be one of those three.
“We’ve got a bunch of billboards in subway stations that are all decked out with Dude Perfect in Times Square, and in Chicago, in the subways, and in L.A. as well.”
A fan meet-up is planned at the New York Hard Rock Cafe, Toney says, and a TV series is in the works.
This all happened with little marketing. Cory Cotton published a book about the group, Go Big: Make Your Shot Count in the Connected World, that’s in its second printing. The group has an iPhone game out that’s consistently among the 50 most popular games, Toney says, and another game app is due out in a couple of weeks.
“Ninety-nine percent of everything we do, the opportunities come to us,” Toney says. “Whether that’s Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks or Tim McGraw, we find ourselves in a position, and it’s a very humbling position, that all these athletes and celebrities want to work with Dude Perfect, and it’s a really cool place to be.
The videos span a variety of sports, including basketball, football, baseball, bowling, golf, archery and others.
“XPOGO Edition” features the guys jumping cars (complete with backflips) and doing alley-oops using pogo sticks. In “Desert Drifting Baseball Edition,” they play baseball in 115-degree heat in the desert — smashing plates in mid-air with their hits and getting into the hotbox with a car driving around the diamond.
In “Final Four Trick Shots,” filmed in 2014 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, they sink buckets with shots from the upper decks to the ground levels of JerryWorld.
Toney says that the videos are filmed in one take more often than you might think.
“If it’s not on the first try, we’re not counting and keeping track of the shots,” he says. “It’s not worth it to keep a tally.
“We film most of our videos, especially if it’s with an athlete or a celebrity, in one day. The most we usually film is two days. So we’re making 15 to 20 shots per video, and it’s a lot quicker than most people think.”
As fun as the sports videos are, the “Stereotypes” videos are funnier.
There are sports stereotypes (“Mr. Excuses” shows up in golf, pickup basketball and other videos) and stereotypes in such places as movie theaters (“The Seat Saver,” “The Chair Kicker” and “The Smuggler,” who manages to get a full steak dinner into the flick) and restaurants (“The Ambitious Refiller,” “Mr. No Manners,” “The Overly Friendly Waiter”).
“That was really a big step for us,” Toney says. “Before that, we were known as the ‘Trick Shot Guys’; before that, ‘The Basketball Trick Shot Guys.’
“Once we branched out to different sports and started working with athletes and things like that, we really wanted to branch out and not just be known as trick-shot guys and be known as entertainers in general.”
They’ve also added prank videos and “battle” videos — such as “Bubble-Wrap Battle.” And then there’s the panda, which appears in many of the sports videos. He’s the “sixth man” of the group (and he has a stunt double!).
“We were in College Station watching a basketball game, and all the guys were sitting around and I was like, ‘You know what we’re missing? Every team’s got a mascot,’” Toney says. “So we started looking online, and we were going to go the goat route and get one of those for the back yard, but that seemed like a lot of work, because we’d have to take care of a goat.
“We looked into some anteater costumes and finally settled on a panda.”
The panda is a scene-stealer that has become a fan favorite among Dude Perfect followers. Some people want to see the panda unmasked. They’re going to have to wait.
“Other than ‘How many tries do you take?’, that’s probably the No. 1 question that we get,” Toney says. “We have no plans to unveil the panda’s identity any time in the future. But that definitely keeps the hype up.”
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872