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Behind the Pages

ESPN

GAME CHANGERS

Photography duo Mark Williams and Sara Hirakawa share what it meant to shift gears and shoot a real-life hero: high school football coach Rob Mendez.

Prior to this shoot, how much did you know about Mendez?

Sara: We didn't know anything. And then we watched the SC Featured profile on him, and we were so moved by it. I teared up. We were really excited to tackle this assignment because it's not something we normally do. We usually shoot fluffier pieces, more fashion, celebrity, pro athletes.

Mark: And this is so heartfelt.

What stood out the most during the shoot with the coach?

Sara: I'd have to say his relationship with the players.

Mark: There was a lot of trust between Mendez and his players. You can tell a lot about a person by those types of relationships. He's a really deep and honest character.

Did anything unexpected happen the day of the shoot?

Mark: It did! We were going to shoot on the football field, but then when we got there, we noticed all of this construction. So we decided to use the practice field instead.

Sara: We got a little flak from Mendez. He said, "I don't think we ever play on this field. It's kind of crappy." But at the end of the day, it really, really worked out.

Is that part of the obstacle of shooting people who aren't as familiar with shoots like this?

Mark: Yeah, it sounds crazy, but we normally shoot people familiar with the process. And these guys were used to sideline sports photographers. But this is different. It takes time, and we really want to give this story the time and justice.

How do you capture someone's real-life heroism on camera?

Sara: We didn't need to do anything. He's already that guy. And it just shows in the photos.

THROUGH THICK AND THIN

Staff writer Hallie Grossman explains how Saadiq Mohammed's host family became family.

In the five years since Mohammed came to the U.S., there were days when it felt like too much. He had support-an American family had welcomed him into its home-but still, sometimes he'd flee the house, overwhelmed by stress, and the family's mother, Jessica, would chase after to assure him that he was not in this alone. "We don't call it a host family," Jessica says. "We're just family. This is his home from now until forever.

SHOW AND TELL AND SHOOT

From scrapbooks to Barbies, the 1999 World Cup-winning U.S. Women's team brought mementos to The Mag's '99ers photo shoot.

Midfielder Michelle Akers on why she kept and brought her Mia Hamm Barbie from 1999: "I thought it was so cool how our team-the culture kind of changed. And suddenly, holy cow, it's a Mia Hamm Barbie, soccer Barbie. Get out! I just loved how we changed things. How we were together and the fun we had, but the seriousness of the performance."