N. Colorado starting punter describes knife attack from backup

By Pat Graham

GREELEY, Colo. – A college football player attacked by a knife-wielding man broke down in sobs on the stand Wednesday, saying he had feared for his life and his career.

Rafael Mendoza, a starting punter for Northern Colorado, was left with a 3- to 5-inch gash in his kicking leg in the attack last Sept. 11 but later returned to the team.

Police and prosecutors allege the then backup punter, Mitch Cozad, stabbed Mendoza in a bid to get the starter’s job, and the attack drew comparisons to the assault by Tonya Harding’s hit man on Nancy Kerrigan.

Cozad is on trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault. His attorney, however, has said another student attacked Mendoza.

Mendoza testified he had just gotten out of his car at his apartment when he heard footsteps behind him, was hit hard in the head and fell to the ground.

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Mendoza said he saw a man swing at him with a knife, miss and then swing again, hitting him in the leg. He said he did not see who the attacker was.

Asked by prosecutor Michele Meyer what his biggest concern was, he said Meghan Gregory, his fiancee.

“All this happened, and she had no clue,” Mendoza said. “My family. My football career.” Then he choked up.

Asked if he was in fear for his life, he said, “I was.”

Later, as Meyer replayed Mendoza’s labored, breathless 911 call from his cell phone, Mendoza broke down again, and Judge Marcelo Kopcow called a recess.