Little did Jarrius Adams know when he saw an ad on Facebook earlier this year that it would change his life.
The Hattiesburg High School graduate, now an Ole Miss sophomore, was lured in by the flashy signage asking for applicants to the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway. The giveaway offered a chance at $100,000 in tuition, but there were a lot of steps to go through first.
“You had to make a profile with your name, your age, your goals in life,” Adams, 19, said. “Then (your profile) had to get 50 votes on social media.
“That unlocks the next stage where you have to make a video saying what you would do with your degree and what you would do to change the world.”
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Adams, a public policy and political science double major, got the required votes and went on to make the video. He said he would use his degrees to work on fully funding public education and changing the voter registration system.
“I want to impact people’s lives,” he said. “I want to be the voice for the voiceless. There are different ways (I could do that). I could be a politician or focus on public education.”
On the Dr Pepper website, Adams is pictured with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The paragraph below his name lays out some of his platform: “My passion is politics, but only 19 percent of Americans trust the government. This is a problem. The government plays a major role in our daily lives.”
Adams is used to the spotlight. He had a successful debate career at Hattiesburg High, culminating in being named National Speech and Debate Association Student of the Year for 2015-16. His debate experience undoubtedly helped him make an attention-getting profile and video and contributed to his responsible nature, which allowed him to follow through during the next phase of the competition.
After the completion of the video, finalists were told they would be contacted by phone, but Dr Pepper officials would try to get through only three times. Adams stayed glued to his cellphone.
“I answered all random calls,” he said.
Finally, the call came. He was invited to attend the Big 10 Championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. His challenge — toss a football into a 9-foot Dr Pepper can as many times as possible in 30 seconds.
Adams immediately began practicing with his younger brother Matthew, 12, who said the two worked out a system.
“We were throwing the ball back and forth and then we got the timer out and we timed ourselves for 30 seconds,” he said. “We saw how many times he could throw it back to me in 30 seconds. The highest was 23.”
Matthew said the back and forth was necessary.
“Practice makes perfect, so he needed me,” he said. “I was very confident he would win because we practiced a lot and he got better each time.
“Once you see somebody impress you, you know they’re going to do good on the big stage.”
Once Adams arrived in Indianapolis, he realized he was one of four semi-finalists. There would be a toss-off to determine the final two who would compete at the game for the $100,000 prize.
“Dr Pepper treated us like celebrities,” Adams said. “We had photographers following us. We sat in the suites.”
In the preliminary round, Adams tossed 16 footballs into the giant Dr Pepper can. The other contestants each made 10 shots. Adams was definitely going to the finals.
On the big day, Adams lined up on the side of the field with the other final contestant — a female student from the University of Southern California whom he had met the day before. They shook hands, and he heard the word, “Go!”
“The 30 seconds felt like 5,” he said. “I saw the score (11-4) and I knew I won, but I didn’t want to seem excited because it was live TV.”
When we got the call we were going to Indiana, he said, ‘Mama, we are going to get the $100,000.’ My son — whatever he says he’s going to do, he makes it happen. Even I am like, ‘How is that going to happen?’ Kids believe more than adults.
Taqunna Adams, Jarrius Adams’ mom
Adams said the crowd went wild and chanted his name “Jarrius! Jarrius!” In a matter of minutes, his phone had 145 messages on it. Adams went into the stands with his mother, but couldn’t sit still to watch the game.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I’ve got to go,’” he said. “I’m walking with this big check and every time I took a step, someone would say, ‘Can I take a picture with you?’”
Adams’ mother, Taqunna, said she wasn’t the least bit surprised her son won.
“When we got the call we were going to Indiana, he said, ‘Mama, we are going to get the $100,000,’” she said. “My son — whatever he says he’s going to do, he makes it happen. Even I am like, ‘How is that going to happen?’ Kids believe more than adults.”
Taqunna Adams believes there was a foreshadowing of her son’s win. Before the game, she and Jarrius were at a store and received 10 cents too much change. Taqunna Adams told Jarrius to give the dime back. She said the winning of the $100,000 was God blessing them many, many times over for returning that dime.
Read more at the Hattiesburg American.com.