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Getting Past the Stabbing


This just in, the punter stabbed by his backup at the University of Northern Colorado has signed to play semi-pro football in Broomfield. There, we said it. We typically don’t break news at Yellow Scene Magazine, especially when it’s the scandal-driven type of story. We come out once a month and find our readers generally like a much slower narrative approach to our stories.

So when Eric Chacon fired off an email with “Stop The Presses…:)” as the heading and described the intro to this story, I was a little apprehensive. Chacon is the general manager for the Broomfield Dawgs, a start-up minor league football team that will begin play in June.

We’d assigned a writer to find a feature about the guys who love the sport so much they’ll pay to play in a semi-pro league long after their careers should have ended.

It will be a great tale, complete with all the bumps and bruises that come with tackle football.

But then the Dawgs signed Rafael Mendoza to be their kicker. By the time our story on football dreams hits stands in June, Mendoza’s tale will be trampled on by every other news agency.

So we picked up the sexy, scandal story, too.

You may recognize the name. Mendoza was the University of Northern Colorado punter who was stabbed in his kicking leg by his backup in the fall of 2006. It made national headlines, and was northern Colorado’s Nancy and Tonya, except Mendoza and Mitch Cozad were friends prior.

“When I first got stabbed, I didn’t believe” it was him, Mendoza, a Thornton native, tells me over coffee a week ago. “The week before, I took him out to dinner.”

Mendoza agreed to talk with Yellow Scene Magazine because he felt it was time to get his side of the story out. For too long, he’s been told by others to clam up.

Mendoza lived in fear following the attack, but he used a new found closeness with his family to get through the tough times. His fiancée, Meghan Gregory, was his rock through it all.

Not wanting Cozad to get the best of him, Mendoza rushed back to the field shortly after the attack.

“I wanted to show him he couldn’t stop me,” he says. It wasn’t until his senior season this past fall—a year after that attack—that he began to find the form that left him thinking about playing well beyond college.

His last punt in a Bears’ uniform skyed 68 yards—he averaged more than 40 yards a kick throughout the 2007 season. The stabbing set him back, though, severely hampering the chance of making the pros (already a tall order before the injury).

It seems Mendoza is content if the NFL never pans out (though his agent has been in contact with the Jacksonville Jaguars). He’ll just go on living the typical life of a 23-year-old whose career was sidetracked by a stabbing. He seems to be on a good track: Mendoza coaches middle school track, works for the family demolition and brick business, and is set to be married to his college sweetheart next summer.

The only unsettled business is a simply question he wishes he could ask Cozad: “Why?”

Other than that, Mendoza’s moved on.

“I try to put everything else behind,” he says.

Yet the getting stabbed by the backup story still has some legs.

The Dawgs’ general manager truly wants the attention. Chacon needs to put butts in the seats—it costs a lot of money to run a team.

The media attention is expected to peak during a scrimmage May 24, when the Dawgs play the Colorado Cobras, who recently signed place kicker Katie Hnida, another player with a leg who made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Hnida was a University of Colorado football player who became the center of the CU football recruiting and sex scandal when she claimed she was raped by a teammate and mistreated in general.

“It is going to be a big media thing,” Mendoza says of the Hnida vs. Mendoza storylines that will be all the rage of local news following the game. “I’m used to it. It’ll just be an everyday thing.”

That’s kind of the sad part of this story, the fact that this story has become an “everyday” occurrence for Mendoza. Prior to the attack, Mendoza was making the transition from a rugby style kicker to the types pro scouts drool over—majestically arching boots that give the coverage team time to make a tackle.

Then Cozad decided he wanted the job—at all costs. On Sept. 11, 2006, he attacked his teammate in a parking lot, striking a nerve in Mendoza’s leg.

Cozad is serving a seven-year sentence for second-degree assault, and anytime someone contacts Mendoza, he is stuck wondering if he’s getting a call because of that fateful night.

Mendoza has permanent loss in flexibility and cannot sit for too long without feeling discomfort. Behind the physical restraints, it’s going to be tough to erase some of the doubts that every chance he is offered is based on the stabbing and not on merit.

“That was always my goal, try to further my career and make it somewhere…now I’m the punter that got stabbed,” he says.

To be honest, he seems able to deal with it all, so long as he gets to wear shoulder pads and play football—even if it is in the relative obscurity of Broomfield Dawgs minor league football.

“I love football,” he says. “I love playing, and if I never get a shot, I’m still going to find a way to play football.”

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