Synopsis: This past October changed my life forever. I entered into Dr Pepper’s Million Dollar Tuition Giveaway and became a finalist! I was super anxious and excited, and practiced every day for their halftime football throw. I made it down to the final two contestants and got to go on the field during halftime of the Big 12 Championship Game to compete. In the most significant 30 seconds of my life, my practice paid off as I narrowly edged out my friend Chris and won a $123,000 scholarship!! Full story below
My entire Dr Pepper journey is a series of good fortune and many coincidental happenings. I only even found out about the contest at an event that I wasn’t going to go to. My church was having a volleyball tournament and picnic, and although it sounded fun I didn’t really feel like going at first. My girlfriend couldn’t come along and I was kind of new in the group so I thought I’d pass. In fact, I was actually in the process of texting one of the youth pastors saying that I couldn’t come when, (for whatever reason) I said, “You know what, let’s just go. It’s a free lunch and I love volleyball!”
After playing volleyball (oddly enough my team won the tournament as well) I was thirsty and looking for a drink. During exercise, water is my drink of choice but they didn’t have any left in the cooler. They did however have several sodas, and the magical Dr Pepper was my drink of choice. I saw the promotion for the Million Dollar Tuition Giveaway and for a millisecond, and only a millisecond, I thought “Yeah, right…what are the odds”. I immediately dismissed that thought though and replaced it with “No! Let’s look into this! I could do this!”
Over the past few months I had actually been entering video contests as a hobby, and I could only hope that Dr Pepper’s contest was video related as well. When I got home I checked out their website and saw that it was a one minute video, followed by throwing footballs into giant Dr Pepper cans for the finalists! I was ecstatic, and committed to entering. I could not believe my good fortune! I loved making videos, and I had been throwing footballs my whole life. What better contest was there?! After reading and re-reading the contest rules, I had to start brainstorming my submission video. They already had some of the winners on the site, so I thought, “why not check out what’s working?” I then watched every single video submission on their site (fifty something), noticed the quality, themes, etc., and said “I must do something to set myself apart, and make the best video I can”. There was a chance to compete for the grand prize on the line, so I put my heart into my video and got to work. Here was my concept: speak from the heart, explain what I want to do with my life, how the money will help me help others, and close with a creative way of saying thank you. Check it out below!
It all started with my submission video:
I filmed on a Saturday and edited/submitted it on Sunday. The website said they would call the finalists, so for the next few days you can only imagine my heartbeat every time I heard the phone ring. On Thursday, October 28, my phone rang. I said to my roommate “It’s an unknown number, it’s an unknown number!!” I answered and heard delightful words. “Hey George this is Courtney from Dr Pepper!” What a feeling. At this point I floating on air, but I knew that one of two things was about to happen. She would either tell me that I was one of their small prize winners ($2,500 scholarship) or I was a finalist, which meant a $5,000 scholarship plus a trip to a Championship game to compete for the grand prize of a $123,000 scholarship. I was grateful for any prize, but let’s be honest a full scholarship is more than a dream come true. Every word Courtney spoke made me more and more anxious, and when I heard the words “finalist” “Dallas” “Big 12 Championship” and “Grand Prize” somehow used in a sentence, my words stopped. My thoughts stopped. I was in disbelief. I was so overjoyed that I couldn’t talk or even celebrate for a few moments. My hands were shaking and my heart was jumping; this was surreal. I talked with her for probably 15 minutes, completely not minding that I was going to be late for class. I was walking on air.
From that phone call, I had 34 days until my flight to Dallas, which meant I had 34 days to practice for what would be the opportunity of a lifetime. I was not going to waste a second. The first thing I did was make a sign that said “Did you throw a football today?” and put it on my closet door. I was committed to improving every day, without exception!
The next day I went to the football building and asked to speak with an equipment manager. Although nobody was available at the time, I wrote a long note explaining my situation and asked if I could borrow some footballs to practice with. Being a Friday, I knew I’d have to wait until Monday for a response.
Later that evening, I was a guest judge for the Architecture Annual Halloween Parade, and I saw a student whose project was almost identical to the target I needed to build to practice, and luckily he wouldn’t need it anymore after that night! See how coincidental this all is? He generously let me have his project, but I still needed to wait until Sunday when the woodshop opened to make some minor adjustments. In the meantime I started to practice throwing with my girlfriend. She was terrific and super helpful!
I had the specifications of the giant Dr Pepper cans we would be throwing into, so when woodshop opened I added a 3′x3′ mdf board over my frame and cut a hole in the middle. I practiced with my one football both Sunday evening and Monday morning, then I got the call from the equipment manager! He arranged for me to have a bag of footballs, which was thirteen, so in addition to my football I now had fourteen to practice with! Solid!
For the next few weeks before Thanksgiving break I was either eating, sleeping, doing architecture work, or practicing. I was also extremely fortunate that my current architecture rotation was actually the one with the least amount of work compared to every other rotation of the year. Stars were lining up. Practice regimen: Throw all 14 footballs every time. I’m Brett Favre’s biggest fan but I was emulating the style of Peyton Manning (I usually threw sidearm and wanted to correct that). I never threw less than 100 passes in a session but I’d say 150-250 was a typical session. P.S. Please don’t think “wow this kid had too much free time”. I stayed very committed to architecture but I made time, and if I didn’t have time, I would sleep less
Over Thanksgiving break I practiced even more, probably 250-350 times a session. I even had my dad help with videotaping myself and studied my form. We recorded from many different angles to get a comprehensive study. The last two days of break before going back to school I threw 500 passes, and logged my scores. I was making 87%. I felt good about this number because I knew the conditions in Texas would be great, unlike my practice sessions where it was around 30 degrees and I wasn’t wearing gloves. Watch my training session below!
We were allowed to bring one guest with us to the game, and at first it was going to be my mom. But she was incredibly generous, kind, and selfless, and passed up the opportunity so I could go with my sister. I love you mom! When we got to the hotel, we got another sign of divine happenings and coincidental fortune. As we were looking out the window, my sister saw a lady bug on the outside of the glass. She said, “Look, a lady bug! That’s good luck!” Two seconds later, another lady bug landed directly next it. Double good luck! That was too cool.
The day before the game we had to narrow it down from 5 contestants to 2. We went to the Cowboy’s stadium and had it basically to ourselves; it looked so different empty! We then did the exact same challenge as the halftime contest, and since we had 5 people we did 1 vs 1, 1 vs 1, and 1. I made all ten footballs and was absolutely ecstatic. It held up as the high score and gave me a spot in the final two. But before we were done I competed in a tie breaker with the last remaining finalist. This was to determine who would be the winner if we tied twice during the actual halftime throw. I made all ten this time also which was just enough to give me the tie breaker advantage.
Before we left, I noticed someone holding the pre-made checks for each of the contestants (those big checks you seen in movies). I asked to see mine and carefully examined it, noticing how it felt, what it was made of, approximate size, and most importantly, I envisioned it as if it was already mine. I vividly felt how I would feel if I won this, how it would feel to call this check mine. I closed my eyes and felt with my heart, and then gave it back. I had what I needed.
Game day. We had a lot to do before the game but my sister and I found a place to throw for one last time. It was great having her there with me. Despite how much her hands were hurting from playing, she dealt with the pain to help me stay loose and ready. I owe a lot of my success to her, for both playing catch and for a lot of mental/emotional support.
Before we left the hotel (around noon), I took out my sketchbook and I drew something. I believe in visualizing and attracting goals, so I drew what my vision was for that night. Remember how I carefully examined the check? I drew a picture of me, the contest host, and a Dr Pepper representative together on the field with me holding the check. In the background was the giant Dr Pepper can and the electronic score keeper, in which I drew the number ten. This would not leave my pocket until after the game, and every chance I got in the eight remaining hours before the game, I’d pull it from my pocket and vividly visualize it again.
With each inch that we approached the stadium, my heart pumped a little harder and faster. A sudden calm came over me though when I saw the one thing in the world that could assure I was being guided from above. On the back of the seat in front of me, on the horizontal handle bar, somebody had drawn a smiley face with a sharpie. A smiley face is my symbol! I draw them on everything I do, I put them on things I hand in to teachers, and I literally draw smiley faces on the hoods of people’s cars when it snows. That is the one symbol that I would choose to have represent me and here it was. Coincidence?
34 days and an estimated 7500 passes had been thrown, and now was the time. At stake was a full ride to college; a $123,000 scholarship. At 19 years old, numbers like this hadn’t come up much in the past, and the thought that I could actually win was still not quite real. I mean, these are things you hear about, but never actually think could happen. I was incredibly blessed. I was living in a dream.
With 13 minutes left in the second quarter we went down to the tunnel and boy was that the longest wait of my life. But no time was wasted. I didn’t speak much as I was deep in thought. I was going through the motions, all the while repeating two things to myself. One was a quote by Mike Tyson. It pumps me up and reminds me that to be a champion, you have to think like a champion: “I’m the best ever, I’m the most brutal and vicious and most ruthless champion there’s ever been! No one can stop me; I’m the best ever!” Perhaps a little arrogant sounding but remember I was saying this to myself; no one else heard it. The second quote is from the Madden 08 introduction, composed of several coaches quotes pieced together: “Either we want it, or we don’t! Let’s get out there and show ‘em we want it. Come on! Men we need your best, your very best. Regardless of what happens today, let’s be relentless, no matter what happens! It’s time to rise up, it’s time to rise up! Break it down!”
When it came time to walk on the field, I was ready both mentally and physically. Anxious, but not nervous. This is what I had trained for. I took a few deep breaths and when the whistle blew my training took over and I was essentially on autopilot. This was my goal from day one. This is why I threw 7500 passes. I wanted to get so good at throwing footballs that I was almost literally a robot, and could just hit ‘go’ and nothing, no crowd noise, no cheerleaders, no missed throw, could affect me in the slightest. I remember my first two throws. They both nipped a side, but the rest I can’t remember. All I know is that they all went in. After making my 10th, I looked over and saw Chris’s score go from 8 to 9, and for a second, time stood still. Crap! Would we be going to a tiebreaker?! Then I saw from from his body language that he did not have another ball, and it hit me that I was in fact dreaming and that this was all imaginary but figured I’d enjoy it while it lasted! Just kidding…but the realization I won was so unbelievable that I still wonder if it was a dream. Watch the replay below:
The Oklahoma cheerleaders were celebrating with me on the field as I got the check, but that whole part was a blur (I wish it wasn’t!). After throwing the tenth ball, everything that followed is but a vague, foggy image in my memory. Perhaps that’s the way it should be. I was practically dreaming as it was happening, so I remember it as such.
This whole experience taught me many lessons, and here are my best attempts to convey some of them briefly to you.
- Life is a game inches. Both of my first two passes on the field hit the side of the hole. They still went it, but if either pass was an inch, maybe even half an inch closer the side, they could’ve missed. If either of them did, I might’ve left with $100,000 less. Maybe if I would’ve thrown ten less balls in practice those would have missed. Every throw counted, every practice counted. Fight for those inches, you never know how much they will mean.
- Take chances and have faith! “Million Dollar Tuition Giveaway”. I’d bet at least a couple thousand people wanted to enter but didn’t because they thought “What are the odds”. For a brief moment, I thought that too. But it never matters how many people enter, someone will win who had the exact same odds as you. Take chances, especially if you have nothing to lose!
- Keep your goals in front of you. As soon as I found out I was a finalist, I made a sign with sharpie marker that said “Did you throw a football today?” and hung it on my closet door. Since I get dressed every day (hopefully!) I had to see the sign every day. And by seeing that sign, I was consistently reminded of how important this goal was to me and the action steps I needed to take. Also, as shown above, I drew a picture of me winning the grand prize and used it the day of the game to help visualize the goal in my mind.
- Consider the value of your time. Many of my friends didn’t enter this contest for various reasons; a common one was “I don’t have time to enter”. Meanwhile, many of them had part-time jobs at approximately $8-$10 an hour. However, it was a contest for a one minute video, only open to students, with over 100 prizes of at least $2,500! Now, let’s say it takes 5 hours to make this one minute video. If you win a prize, you made $500 an hour. If you don’t, you only spent 5 hours. Worst case scenario is losing $50 from missing work. The risk is so small compared to the reward!