Ex-Northern Colorado punter Cozad sentenced to seven years

GREELEY, Colo. -- A judge sentenced former Northern Colorado
backup punter Mitch Cozad to seven years in prison Tuesday for
stabbing a rival in what prosecutors said was a brutal attempt to
take over the starter's role.

"Clearly, this was deliberate to hurt him, and you succeeded,"
Weld County District Judge Marcelo Kopcow told Cozad as he
announced the sentence.

"The goal is to not ruin your life," Kopcow said. "I would
like you to succeed in your life."

Prosecutors said Cozad ambushed starting punter Rafael Mendoza
on the night of Sept. 11, 2006. Mendoza was left with a deep gash
in his kicking leg but later returned to the team.

Cozad was convicted in August of second-degree assault but
acquitted of the more serious charge of attempted first-degree

Cozad, 22, of Wheatland, Wyo., could have faced up to 16 years
in prison on the assault conviction.

He spoke briefly Tuesday, thanking family and friends for their
support and then offering an apology.

"I am very sorry to everyone for any pain and suffering you've
endured. My hopes and prayers are to Mr. Mendoza and his family
that they don't suffer anymore as a result of this ordeal," he

At the trial, Mendoza testified he could not see who attacked
him in the dimly lighted parking lot. The assailant was dressed in
black from head to toe and had a hood cinched up so only the eyes
were visible.

Defense attorney Joseph "Andy" Gavaldon had argued it was
another university student who stabbed Mendoza, not Cozad.

Before Cozad was sentenced, prosecutors called four people
Tuesday to make statements, including Mendoza and his mother,

Rafael Mendoza said he was convinced Cozad wanted to kill him.

"Even though he wasn't convicted of it, his intentions were
clear," Mendoza said, fighting tears. "I'll never forget that.
I've spend long nights since then waking up in a cold sweat, having
nightmares, thinking I was going through that again."

"No matter how much time you give Mitch, it won't be enough,"
she said. "I don't believe he'll ever change. I don't know him as
well as I thought. I'm suggesting you give him as much time as
possible. I've been in fear way too long."

Mendoza's mother also asked Kopcow to give Cozad the maximum

Mendoza later said he thought Cozad's apology rang hollow.

"I think it might have been what his lawyer told him to say,"
Mendoza said. "It seems scripted. He might feel something, but
there was no reaction from him when he was convicted."

Before issuing sentence, Kopcow urged Cozad face up to his

"I hope one day you do take responsibility, if you haven't done
so already, and not be deceitful to yourself or to your family and
friends regarding your involvement in this case," Kopcow said.

"It snowballs because of your actions in this case -- your
family and friends, his family and friends are all so deeply
affected by your actions," Kopcow continued. "I am not going to
speculate as to your motive -- whether your motive was to advance
your football career. If that in fact was your motive, that is a
sad state of affairs for this community," he said.

Gavaldon said his client still planned to appeal.

"He's doing well under the circumstances -- as well as a
22-year-old who now knows that he's sentenced to the department of
corrections for a significant period of time," Gavaldon said.
"It's difficult."

Cozad's fiance, Michelle Weydert, wept as he was brought into
the courtroom and blinked back tears after he made his statement.

"He's the blessing of my life," she said afterward. "I love
him, and I'll always support him. That's from my heart. I know many
families have been affected by this event. I pray for a better day
every day for everyone."