College punter accused of attacking teammate

By The Associated Press

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. Arrested on a charge of second-degree assault, Cozad was freed Wednesday on $30,000 bond.

Mendoza, who was treated and released at a Greeley hospital, will miss Saturday’s game at Texas State.

“Rafael is a competitor and wants to get back as soon as he can,” said head coach Scott Downing.

The incident conjured up images of the rivalry between figure skaters Harding and Kerrigan. Harding was banned from the sport for life after her former husband hired a hit man to smack Kerrigan on the knee with a crowbar.

“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.

But Downing wasn’t so sure.

Cozad and Mendoza, a junior from the Denver suburb of Thornton, 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 level.”

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, said director of athletics Jay Hinrichs. Cozad 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 about 50 miles north of Denver. Kessler said Mendoza was attacked from behind and stabbed in his right thigh outside his apartment about 9:30 p.m.

The assailant fled in a black Dodge Charger, Kessler said. Soon after the attack, a store clerk told police that two men in a car matching that description stopped outside the store.

Cozad was arrested the next day.