GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - Jurors began deliberating Wednesday in the case of a former college punter charged with attempted first-degree murder in a knife attack on the starter.
Prosecutors portrayed Mitch Cozad as an ambitious but frustrated athlete who could not break out of his backup role at Northern Colorado. They said he stabbed starter Rafael Mendoza in his kicking leg in a desperate attempt to take over the top job.
Cozad's lawyer argued Cozad was a gentle and laid-back student from Wheatland, Wyo., who wouldn't resort to a knife attack. The defense claimed another student stabbed Mendoza.
Cozad, who did not testify, is also charged with second-degree assault in the attack last Sept. 11. He could face up to 48 years in prison if convicted of both counts.
Mendoza was attacked outside his apartment in Evans, a small town adjacent to Greeley. He was left with a deep gash in his kicking leg but later returned to the team.
He testified he could not see who attacked him.
In her closing statement, prosecutor Michele Meyer said Cozad would do anything to play football.
``No matter how hard he tried on the football field he could not compete with Mr. Mendoza at his skill level. And the only option was to take it off the field, and that's what he did,'' Meyer said.
``He tried to kill him. Swiped at him twice, couldn't get him, so he stabbed him in the back of the leg,'' she said.
In his closing statement, defense attorney Joseph Gavaldon said it was Kevin Aussprung who attacked Mendoza.
Aussprung, who testified in the trial, has adamantly denied he was the attacker. He said Cozad offered him money to accompany him and watch over his car outside Mendoza's apartment the night of the attack. Aussprung said Cozad did not tell him what happened, and he did not ask.
``(Aussprung) pulled the wool over the district attorney's eyes, because he's not charged,'' Gavaldon said. ``The issue in this case is if Mr. Cozad stabbed Rafael Mendoza, there is reasonable doubt.''

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