Northern Colorado backup punter arrested

Updated: September 14, 2006, 3:10 PM ET
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. 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 game.

"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 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, 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 State.

"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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press