GREELEY, Colo. -- In a scenario reminiscent of Tonya Harding
vs. Nancy Kerrigan, the backup punter at Northern Colorado has been
accused of stabbing his rival in the leg -- his kicking leg.
Mitch Cozad, a sophomore from Wheatland, Wyo., allegedly
attacked Rafael Mendoza in a parking lot this week. Mendoza was
treated and released at a Greeley hospital, but it wasn't clear
when he would return. Cozad was arrested on a charge of second-degree assault and
freed Wednesday on a $30,000 bond.
Mendoza, a junior from the Denver suburb of Thornton, will miss
this weekend's game against Texas State. He told Denver station
KCNC-TV he was recovering and also wished his team luck in the
"I'm looking forward to getting back to playing with my team.
I'm upset this happened but at the same time there's nothing I can
do and just move on," he said.
The saga conjured up images of the 1994 rivalry between figure
skaters Harding and Kerrigan. Harding was banned from the sport for
life after her former husband, Jeff Gillooly, hired a hit man to
smack Kerrigan with a baton.
"I guess the only identified motive [in the attack on Mendoza]
at this point in time is the competition for that position," Evans
police Lt. Gary Kessler said.
Head coach Scott Downing said he wasn't so sure.
Cozad and Mendoza were competitive, he said, but no more than
players at other positions.
"No different than starting quarterback or starting right
tackle," he said. "Everyone was held accountable to the same
Asked if there was any jealousy between the two players, he
said, "I have no idea. That would all be conjecture."
Cozad was suspended from the university and the team and was
evicted from his dorm room, university officials said. He had no
listed phone number in Greeley, and a phone message left at his
Wyoming address was not immediately returned.
The stabbing took place Monday in Evans, a small town adjacent
to Greeley and about 50 miles north of Denver. Kessler said Mendoza
was attacked from behind after parking his car outside his
apartment at about 9:30 p.m.
About 10 minutes after the attack, a liquor store clerk told
police that a car matching the description of the assailant's
getaway car stopped outside the store, where two men stripped tape
off the license plate and drove away.
The clerk gave police the license number and the car was traced
to Cozad, who was arrested Tuesday Kessler said.
Downing said Mendoza is eager to return but will miss Saturday's game at Texas
"Rafael is a competitor and wants to get back as soon as he
can. When that occurs, I don't know," he said.
Mendoza averaged 37.6 yards per punt on nine punts in the two
games this season.