Lakeview grad wins $100,000 scholarship at Big Ten halftime event

It all came down to a 30-second time clock, a giant Dr. Pepper can, and a bin full of footballs.

But by the end of that 30 seconds, Lakeview High School alumnus Sawyer Stevens was the winner of a $100,000 college scholarship.

Stevens was one of the finalists competing in the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway on Saturday during halftime at the Big Ten Championship football game in Indianapolis. Stevens was able to throw the most footballs into a pop can-shaped target and was rewarded with the scholarship.

“I’m feeling pretty good. It was a really great time,” Stevens said of the experience. He was also thankful for the opportunity. The scholarship money will help him pursue his goal of going to medical school and becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon, he said.

Stevens is currently a junior at the University of South Dakota. In his pitch video to become a Tuition Giveaway finalist, Stevens said he is studying medical biology.

Stevens said he applied for the Tuition Giveaway competition after learning about the application process online.

“I first tried in my sophomore year,” Stevens said. That first attempt wasn’t successful, he said, because he was missing part of the application — a video explaining how he wanted to change the world. “You make a profile, and you have to get 50 votes for it. Then you have to get a video in.”

This year, Stevens said, he was prepared.

“I had some really good friends at USD who helped me put (the video) together,” he said.

Stevens said his own life experiences have helped shape his goal to make other people’s lives better. Stevens was severely injured in the school bus crash that took the lives of four Lakeview students in 2008. Sawyer’s brother Reed Stevens was killed in the crash.

During his recovery, Sawyer said, “I got to see a lot of what people do in various departments of the medical field.” He also learned firsthand how pediatric doctors’ work goes beyond just physically taking care of kids.

“Your goal is to help them have the most normal life they can possibly have,” Stevens said. The motivation and support he got from his doctors was a big help.

“I love working with children, and I’d love to be able to give them some of the same positive experiences I had in my time of need,” he said.

Stevens got the good news about being chosen as a contest finalist in November. After that, he said, he prepared for the competition by building a model of the target out of PVC and cardboard.

“I had probably a solid two weeks and then some” of practice, he said. The USD football team let him practice with some of their footballs, and the Southwest Minnesota State University team did the same when Stevens was back in Minnesota for Thanksgiving break.

Stevens’ chosen throw technique generated some controversy from spectators of the Tuition Giveaway event. He opted to throw the footballs with a chest pass.

“I watched a lot of videos” of past years’ competitions, he said, and he saw there were about three techniques contestants seemed to use. One was a more traditional football throw, but some contestants would also use a chest pass, or a more underhand throw, like in rugby.

Stevens said the chest pass was the method that gave him the most accuracy and speed when he practiced.

While it was exciting to get a trip to the Big Ten game, Stevens said a lot of his anxiety was gone when it was time for him to be on the field.

“Being down on the field, I guess it was like, ‘It’s real, it’s happening now, there’s no more need to worry,'” he said.

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