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CDC84
08-10-2007, 02:44 PM
Former Football Player at U. of Northern Colorado Is Convicted of Assaulting Teammate
By SARA LIPKA
Chronicle of Higher Education

A state jury has found a former second-string punter on the University of Northern Colorado football team guilty of stabbing the starting player to try to win his job.

The jury convicted Mitchell C. Cozad on Thursday of second-degree assault but cleared him of attempted murder.

During a six-day trial at the Weld County Courthouse, Rafael Mendoza, the Bears' starting punter, testified that a man with a black hooded sweatshirt cinched around his eyes approached him in the parking lot of his apartment complex on the night of September 11, 2006. The assailant punched him in the head, Mr. Mendoza said, and twice swiped a knife near his throat before stabbing him in the upper right thigh, leaving a deep gash in his kicking leg.

At the time, the Bears were two games into their season and Mr. Mendoza was the only punter to have played. Mr. Cozad, the second-string punter, had "extreme hatred, competition, and jealousy" for his rival, according to a teammate's description in a police document.

On the night of the stabbing, a local liquor-store employee called the police to report that two men in the parking lot were peeling duct tape off the license plate of a Dodge Charger. The car, which matched a witness's description of one speeding out of Mr. Mendoza's parking lot, was registered to Mr. Cozad's mother, in Wyoming. Its license plate said "8-KIKR."

Mr. Cozad's lawyer argued that it was another teammate, Kevin Aussprung, who had attacked Mr. Mendoza. Mr. Aussprung admitted to accompanying Mr. Cozad on the night of the assault but said he did not stab Mr. Mendoza. Mr. Cozad's former girlfriend testified that he had asked her to lie to the police and say she was with him the whole night.

Mr. Cozad did not testify.

As a result of his injury, Mr. Mendoza, a liberal-studies major from Thornton, Colo., missed one football game. He returned to the Bears to complete 51 punts for an average of 40.5 yards on the season. Northern Colorado finished with a 1-9 record.

Mr. Cozad did not have a chance to play. The university announced his suspension on September 13. "We ... hold our student-athletes to a high level of accountability, and they understand our expectations," Scott Downing, the head football coach, said in a written statement at the time.

Mr. Cozad, who is being held without bond, could face up to 16 years in prison. He will be sentenced on October 2.