In this recurring monthly special, Nonahood News will be featuring those who’ve graduated from Lake Nona High School and will recognize the achievements they’ve made since. Some will have been a part of the first graduating class. Others might have graduated a few years later. Few have stayed in the Lake Nona area, and many have explored the world or are still doing so. Let’s see where life’s journey has taken them so far!
Year Graduated: 2011
Occupation: Tight Ends Coach for the University of West Florida
Current Location: Pensacola, FL
Matt Mendez had lived in Lake Nona for the majority of his life. In 2004, his parents moved to the area and built their dream home by Moss Park. He began elementary school at NorthLake Park Community School and graduated high school at Lake Nona High School. Mendez is definitely proud to represent his class and says he “was part of the OG class! 2011! First class in school history.”
When Mendez was a student at Lake Nona, his post-high-school goals included playing college football while also getting his degree.
“Short-term goal was to play college football. Always wanted to play college sports. Long-term goal was to get my degree. Knew I wanted to still be involved in sports after I was done playing, so I initially was thinking sports management or sports-specific training.”
Once he graduated from high school, Mendez was able to achieve each goal he set for himself!
“Got the chance to play college football. Not at the level that I wanted, though the ACL injury my senior year hurt my chances overall, but God was good and still presented me with the opportunity to play at a small school in Wisconsin. It wasn’t for long but still had a great experience.”
After his time playing college football, he enrolled at the University of Central Florida to get a degree in Sports and Exercise Physiology. He also kept in mind his goal to still be involved in sports and thought of his high school – “Why not coach at Lake Nona?”
“Coached there for a couple years, while I was finishing my degree at UCF. While there, I developed new goals, new aspirations, and wanted to pursue this coaching gig a bit more.”
After he graduated from UCF in December 2015, he began his path toward coaching college football. When telling about his journey from this point to where he is now, it’s difficult not to admire Mendez’s resilience.
“From January to May, everyday I would reach out to schools at every level just for an opportunity. I’d call, email, even walk in to their facilities to try and talk to someone about a possible opportunity. In May of 2016, I kind of started losing hope, then my sister told me that there was a new coaching staff at her school (Ave Maria University) and that I should reach out. Not even a day later, I get an email back from the head coach asking if I can come down for an interview. Went through the interview, and after, I was offered the tight ends coaching position, but there was a catch. The pay was $1,000 for the year.”
After the interview, Mendez discussed the offer with his parents, called his mentors, and prayed. He was faced with a tough choice where he would have to decide between his aspirations or being comfortable with the full-time position he had in Orlando. Here, he quotes the words his dad told him during this decision, and he relied on these words well after he took the job:
“To achieve your goals, you have to go through the grind. It’s going to be hard, uncomfortable, scary. It’s supposed to be, you’re pursuing something that is out of the norm. If it were easy, everyone would do it. People are going to question what you are doing, call you stupid for trying. But all that matters is how bad you want it! Keep faith, be strong, and know God always has your back.”
Throughout the year, Mendez constantly thought, “God always has your back.” He pushed himself to network and make connections with as many coaches as he could. Right before the 2017 football season at Ava Maria commenced, his networking paid off.
“A connection that I made at the University of West Florida reached out to me, and I had a phone interview for the tight ends position. The next morning, I get a call from them offering me the position. I don’t think I said yes so quick ever in my life. And now I’m going into my third year here at UWF.”
In Pensacola, Mendez says you can find him outside and active, whether it’s at the beach, playing golf, or floating down the Blackwater River. When asked about where he sees himself in the next five years, he wants to continue coaching college football, eventually at a bigger school, and he sees himself starting a family as well.
Graduating college was a big milestone for Mendez, and another one approaches later this year when he finishes his master’s degree. One of his major milestones was being part of UWF history as the fastest team in all of college football to play for a national championship, but Mendez doesn’t forget his roots and credits graduating from Lake Nona as a milestone.
“A lot of people in our class are doing big things out here in the real world. Some of y’all are traveling the world, becoming entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, actors, singer, models. Some of y’all took over the important task of teaching our next generation of kids (bless your heart). We all are out here grinding and achieving milestones, and I look forward to seeing all the new ones we will achieve. Oh, and remember, ‘God has your back.’”