Harding-Kerrigan revisited Northern Colorado punter stabbed in incident similar to skaters' episode
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 a $30,000 bond.
Mendoza, who was treated and released at a Greeley, Colo., hospital, will miss at least Saturday's game at Texas State.
"Rafael is a competitor and wants to get back as soon as he can," said coach Scott Downing. "When that occurs, I don't know."
The incident 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 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, Colo., 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," the coach 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, director of athletics Jay Hinrichs said.
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 on Monday in Evans, a small town adjacent to Greeley and about 50 miles north of Denver. The Greeley Tribune first reported the story in Wednesday's editions.
Kessler said Mendoza, averaging 37.6 yards per punt on nine punts in the two games, was attacked from behind and stabbed in his right thigh after parking his car outside his Evans apartment about 9:30 p.m.
The assailant fled in a black Dodge Charger, Kessler said. About 10 minutes after the attack, a liquor store clerk told police that two men in a car matching that description stopped outside the store, 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.