Backup accused of stabbing punter

College football

September 14, 2006|By Robert Sanchez | Robert Sanchez,The Denver Post

Greeley, Colo. -- A backup punter upset with his playing time on the University of Northern Colorado football team was released from jail yesterday, two days after allegedly ambushing and stabbing the team's starting punter in his kicking leg.

Mitch Cozad, 21, had "an extreme hatred, competition and jealousy" for the team's starting punter, Rafael Mendoza, according to a report filed by the Evans, Colo., police. Cozad, a walk-on player from Wyoming, was told a week before the stabbing that "Mendoza was out-performing him on the football field" and that he needed to work harder.

Mendoza, a 21-year-old junior from Thornton, Colo., was treated at North Colorado Medical Center for a wound that was an inch wide and up to five inches deep. A tube was placed in the punter's thigh to allow fluid to drain.

"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.

Mendoza's mother said her son is on crutches, is taking pain pills and will visit a doctor today to check the wound.

Cozad, a sophomore who was suspended from school and kicked off the team, could not be reached to comment after posting $30,000 bond yesterday. He is expected to be charged with second-degree assault.

Cozad apparently had stalked Mendoza for several days, the police report said, initially asking a teammate where the punter lived.

On Monday, Mendoza returned from study hall around 9:37 p.m. and was locking his vehicle outside the Crescent Cove Apartments in Evans, just south of Greeley, when he was struck from behind, according to police. Mendoza turned to face the attacker - dressed in black sweatpants and a sweat shirt with a hood cinched around his face - fought briefly and fell to the ground. Mendoza then was stabbed.

A witness saw Cozad get into a car with a passenger, police said. The pair sped away, but were seen a few minutes later at a liquor store where they pulled tape off the car's Wyoming vanity license plate, "8-KIKR."

A store employee called police.

The license plate later was tracked to Cozad's mother in Wheatland, Wyo. Police found Cozad in his dormitory room, interviewed the punter and found a black hooded sweat shirt in his closet.

When detectives spoke with Cozad's friends and teammates the next morning, the punter asked them to provide an alibi. Cozad then was arrested.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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