Alumni play key role in production of Fox Sports series featuring Eric LeGrand

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2010, during a game at MetLife Stadium, former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand suffered a spinal cord injury making a tackle, leaving him paralyzed. Since then, he has worked tirelessly and regained some feeling and movement, while using his platform to motivate others and to share his story.

Now, he’s sharing the stories of others who have overcome adversity — and two Penn State College of Communications alumni are helping him.

JC Costa, a 2007 telecommunications graduate, and classmate Bill Connell, who earned his degree in film-video, are the co-founders of NewPace Productions, which was launched in 2007. The company is producing “Mission Possible with Eric LeGrand,” which was picked up by Fox Sports. So far, the group has compiled six episodes, which are three-to-five minutes apiece.

The most recent episode, released leading up to WWE’s WrestleMania, features Rohan Murphy, a former Penn State wrestler who lost his legs at the age of 4.

Together, LeGrand and Murphy visited WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, met with company officials, and attended Summer Slam.

Some other episodes included LeGrand visiting the New England Patriots with a woman who finished the Boston Marathon on two prosthetic legs and her friend who was a double amputee, as well as LeGrand taking a girl with cerebral palsy to prom.

“I think at the end of the day, the idea is to showcase people’s abilities instead of their disabilities,” said Costa. “These people are regular people. In spite of their disabilities, they’re transcending that and not letting it hold them down. They’re overcoming adversity. Shedding light on them is what Eric’s mission is, and to use his platform to be able to share other people’s stories.”

The idea came about a few years back when Connell and Costa met with Steve McWilliams, who is the director of disability services at Villanova University. Along with Gregory Hannah and Matthew Marencik, the original idea for the show was to feature people with disabilities playing sports and overcoming adversity.

Eventually, the idea evolved and the crew was introduced to Mike Luciano, who was paralyzed from the waist down. That’s when the idea took off.

First, they completed a pilot episode on Luciano. In addition, Luciano happened to go to the same rehabilitation facility as LeGrand. After an introduction from Luciano, and about two years after the initial idea, the group had its host.

They started to produce episodes of LeGrand meeting with others who were overcoming adversity and pitching the pilots. Eventually, Fox Sports decided to move forward with the project.

“It was kind of crazy because it took so many years for somebody to buy in and fund the project so we could go out and really produce it,” said Costa. “We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it, and our own money and time. People really liked the idea from different networks, but nobody really ever signed up. Fox Sports finally did and the content turned out to be really good.”

The group shot the first six episodes, which were created for a pilot series on the web, during the summer and fall. The show was eventually promoted on an episode of “Fox NFL Sunday” last September, with LeGrand visiting the set to talk with the hosts. In December, LeGrand visited ABC’s “Good Morning America” to promote the show, as well.

Each segment takes about three days to shoot. After meetings with the subject, their family and friends, they then work on interviews and related content. Later they shadow LeGrand and the subject during a special experience, and they wrap up with confessional interviews with LeGrand.

NewPace Productions has a theme of producing impactful films, including one about a rare disease called Scleroderma, narrated by Bob Saget. For Costa, these stories make his job fulfilling and rewarding.

“To be totally honest with you, that’s what I feel like my life’s work calling is,” said Costa. “To be able to have purpose in our work and really believe in what we’re doing and to be able to make a change in people and change the way people see things is pretty awesome.

“It’s always cliché to say if you can help one person, save one person’s life, or change one person’s attitude about things, then the project is worth it … but we’ve done that and it’s true.”

Last Updated March 31, 2017