Northern Colorado punter relieved after attacker found guilty
University of Northern Colorado senior punter Rafael Mendoza was in the team's weight room Thursday morning, standing under a squat machine, preparing his legs for the upcoming season, when the call came in.Nearly 11 months after he was attacked outside his college apartment, left with a stab wound in his kicking leg that ran 5 inches deep, the jury had reached a verdict in the case against his former teammate, Mitch Cozad.Mendoza had fully prepared for this, showing up for his scheduled workout to get his mind off things and yet strategically placing his cell phone in a nearby hallway in hopes it would find reception if the district attorney's office called. But when it did, and the caller explained that the jury was ready with a verdict, the nerves set in. Roughly a half-hour later, after a shower and a change of clothes, Mendoza was in the courtroom listening as a jury of six men and six women said they found Cozad not guilty of attempted first-degree murder. "And that's when things really got nerve-wrecking," Mendoza told ESPN.com. "I thought, 'This guy might get off scot-free. He tried to kill me and he's going to get away with it." Mendoza held his mom's hand. His fiancée's hand. He listened. On the second charge, second-degree assault, carrying a prison term of five to 16 years, the jury found Cozad guilty. For Mendoza, it was a moment of relief. For Cozad, it was the continuation of a nightmare. And for the history of sports in our country, it was a dark moment. A jury had officially found one athlete guilty of stabbing a teammate in hopes of injuring that teammate and taking his job. It was beyond Nancy and Tonya. Beyond anything Jerry Springer could dig up. It was the absolute opposite of the values sports are supposed to instill. "It's just over the top," said Weld (Colorado) County District Attorney Ken Buck, a former college punter himself. "Frankly, if we want to get philosophical, the whole country has gone over the top. Obviously this guy is different. Not everybody is like Mitch Cozad. But I believe he is a symptom of the pressure we put on our athletes today. I have no question about that."AP PhotoRafael Mendoza can move on with his senior season now that Mitch Cozad's trial is behind him.
From the Beginning ESPN.com has been following the story of the stabbing and other incidents involving the University of Northern Colorado football team since last season. Wayne Drehs' series of stories includes an extensive look at Rafael Mendoza's rehabilitation from the knife wounds in the weeks after the attack. • FEAR AND FOOTBALL: Rafael Mendoza struggles to come to grips with an attempt on his life.
• WHEN TEAMMATES ATTACK: Should we be surprised by the alleged teammate sabotage at Northern Colorado?
• TEAM TURMOIL: A closer look at the University of Northern Colorado, a Division I-AA team that has seen plenty of trouble in recent months.
It's just over the top. Frankly, if we want to get philosophical, the whole country has gone over the top. Obviously this guy is different. Not everybody is like Mitch Cozad. But I believe he is a symptom of the pressure we put on our athletes today. I have no question about that.
Weld (Colorado) County District Attorney Ken Buck
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