Pepper Time

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SR grad Whitney Jones heading to ACC title game contest

By Mike Forster


The hours of ten, two and four o'clock have long been  known as "Dr. Pepper time."  

Whitney Jones hopes pepper time comes for her a bit later in the day.  That's because Jones has been chosen as one of five finalists for the Doctor Pepper Challenge, to be held at halftime of the ACC football title game the evening of Dec. 7.

The resident of Stewartsville will be in Charlotte along with tens of thousands of fans.  The difference, however, is that her mind will be on how well she can throw the football.  If she can throw it extremely well, it could mean an easier ride for her, financially, at Liberty University:  The winner receives $100,000 toward her or his college expenses.

First, the Staunton River grad ('10) will have to tend to business on Friday.  That's when the group of five will be winnowed down to two.  That thinning of the herd will be done via the same contest that will be held at halftime of the championship game.


The contest

On the face of it, what Jones is being asked to do is fairly simple:  throw a football into a soda can.

Actually, from ten yards away, each contestant has 30 seconds to throw as many footballs as he or she can into a hole cut into the side of a (roughly) eight-foot tall Dr. Pepper can.

In front of 73,000 fans and a national television audience.

The finalist who makes the most shots will have $100,000 put toward his or her tuition by the good folks at Dr. Pepper.  That's not bad pay for 30 seconds of work.

The runner-up will receive $20,000 toward defraying college costs.  The other three who make the trip to Charlotte will get $2,500 in college assistance.

In addition to the competition at the ACC title game, Dr. Pepper is hosting identical contests at the Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC championship games.

"We try to change lives in as many ways as we can," said Brian Bell, public relations specialist with the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.  "We've been doing this event for five or six years."


The contestant

Jones may have one slight thing working against her as she enters the fray:  She's never played football before.

At Staunton River she was active in YOVASO, the group that pushes vehicular safety.  In fact, she was that chapter's vice president.  She also was selected Miss Congeniality at the Staunton River pageant her senior year.

Jones was (and continues to be) a very active singer, particularly at her church, Southside Baptist.

But, she never took to the gridiron.

That's OK.  The folks at Dr. Pepper weren't looking for football standouts.  They were looking for something else.  "Her story was phenomenal," Bell said.  "We thought she'd be a great contestant."

Jones does have a compelling story, which she shared in two ways.

First, she posted her brief  (four sentences) written story to the contest's Web page, as did thousands of others.

Any contestant whose story garnered at least 50 votes was then invited to submit a video story.  That clip could be no longer than 60 seconds long.

She received the requisite number of votes in a mere three days.   Then, Jones was helped by her brother-in-law, Nathan Klein, in producing the flick.

Despite the brevity of her stories, she was able to impress the judges.  The video was both informative and entertaining

"I talked about how the money would impact my life and how I would impact the community with my degree," Jones said.

Jones also noted that Liberty University, as a private school, is an expensive proposition.  "I work two jobs," she said, noting that she is employed at Cato Fashions in Vinton and works in occupational therapy with a young person who has   autism in Troutville.

Majoring in family and child development, Jones also is working toward a minor in psychology.  She is scheduled to graduate in 2015, and plans to work with autistic children as her career.


The game

Career aspirations aside, Jones has a job to do when she lands in Charlotte.

She'll be heading there with her father, Steve Jones, who has also worked as her coach since she got the news of her selection.  (Mom, Kelly, will have to catch the action on TV as she mans the home front.)

"We're trying to build up her arm strength," said Steve Jones.  "We've set up a target that's a bit higher and a bit smaller than what we think she'll be throwing at.  It's new to her, but she's come a long way."

Jones reports that she has been working with weights and doing pushups.

"The way I see it, we've already won with this opportunity and this fun," said Dad.  "We'll just enjoy the moment."

The ACC championship game happens to fall on Jones's 22nd birthday.  "I can think of no better way of spending my birthday," she said.

And is she a fan of the sponsoring beverage?  "I do like Cherry Dr. Pepper," she said.  "That's my favorite."

"I've always liked Dr. Pepper," added Dad.  "I like it a lot more now!"

Does Jones have a favorite quarterback; someone she'd like to emulate?  

"I like Tim Tebow, because I share his same faith," said Jones.

Then, with a laugh, she added, "And people make fun of me because I share his same throwing style."