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“SC Featured’s” Profile “Who Says I Can’t” Will Make You A Believer in Coach Rob Mendez

Producer Kristen Lappas: "Obviously you try to stay neutral and unbiased in producing these stories, but after meeting someone like [Mendez], you can’t help but cheer for him . . ."

Saturday’s “SC Featured” segment on SportsCenter will tell the inspiring story of Rob Mendez, a successful California high school football coach who was born with no arms or legs.

“Who Says I Can’t” debuts in the 8 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter and will re-air in other editions through the weekend. The multiplatform presentation will include a longer version on ESPN+ as well as an in-depth written piece by Wayne Drehs on ESPN.com. ESPN the Magazine’s “The Boardroom” issue, on newsstands today, includes a photo essay on Mendez.

Kristen Lappas, who produced the story for ESPN Features, spoke with Front Row:

How did you first meet Rob?
I was editing a piece in Oakland and saw a local newspaper [San Jose Mercury News] in a coffee shop. There was a picture of Rob on the front, and the headline said ‘No arms, no legs, no problem.’ You see that picture and it’s just such a striking image of this man being pushed in the wheelchair by his players – and I said, ‘Wow, I need to talk to this guy.’ I reached out to the writer of the article [Darren Sabedra] and he gave me Rob’s contact info. We met two days later.

He wanted to meet at a Starbucks near his house. I was sitting at a table and he rolls in and everybody in there knew him. He was so spirited and so high energy. Honestly it is a little surprising and shocking when you first see him, but you watch how he interacts with everybody and you just forget after two minutes.

What were your storytelling goals?
I wanted to take our audience through a season with Rob from his first day, capturing the reaction from the players to seeing him for the first time and then how that relationship progressed over the course of the season. As a storyteller, that was really important for me.

Any time you’re capturing something like that as it unfolds, it’s a little uneasy and nerve-racking as a producer and a storyteller. But at the same time it also tends to be the scenario when you have the potential for the biggest payoff.

Obviously you try to stay neutral and unbiased in producing these stories, but after meeting someone like Rob Mendez, you can’t help but cheer for him and want him to do well. I was rooting for him and I will always be rooting for him.

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– Molly Mita


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