San Jose football coach knows no limits, inspires kids

Robert Mendez was born without arms and legs, but he refuses to be limited by his physical differences and lives life to the fullest, even coaching San Jose High’s Varsity football team.

"You can't look at someone and just completely judge them right away," said Mendez, who's the assistant coach for the Bulldogs, " I'm not a disabled coach.  I'm a different coach."

The 28-year-old said he has a job that he loves— coaching football.

He says he loves the energy of the game and the lessons learned from each practice.

"I've ran across so many people in the 10 years that I've coached," said Mendez who can turn physical disadvantages into advantages.

He uses his wheelchair to draw plays on the field.

"When I start thinking about what I'm fortunate about, it picks me up," he said.

A smartphone and a stylus allow him to put plays that are in his head onto the field.

Mendez acknowledges the physical challenges he suffers including back pains from scoliosis, but he says he appreciates all that he can do and is grateful for what he does have.

"I never felt sorry for myself," said Mendez who lives with a roommate and has a caregiver when he needs.

"I try to be self-sufficient. That's one of my main goals in life is always to be independent.  Some people call it stubborn. I call it figuring out things on your own."

Mendez uses his story to teach students about facing life's challenges.

"He chooses to be out here and teach everyone else. I think it really inspires everyone to pay attention and listen to him," said 16-year-old Gilbert Chavez, a San Jose High football player.

Mendez said he's loved football since he was a young boy watching games with his grandfather.  Later he attended Gilroy High where the football coaches taught him the game.   

"He's a football mind.  He watches a lot of tape. He spends a lot of time here with the kids.  He puts in his work. I hired him purely based on a football decision," said David Ashkinaz, the head football coach at San Jose High.

In the game of life, winning is all in the attitude.

"There is always going to be a better tomorrow.  In life, there is always something to be happy about," said Mendez. 

He says he's grateful for a loving family and a community that embraces him.

Mendez dislikes the word "disabled." He says we're all disabled in some way. His description for himself:  "differently abled."