|Mendoza family moving on after former Northern Colorado backup punter found guilty of assault|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 10 August 2007 12:44|
The pizzas, stories and smiles were plentiful for the 25 family members, but this was not a celebration.
This was about closure - putting to rest what happened to Rafael Mendoza last Sept. 11.
That night Mendoza, the starting punter on the Northern Colorado football team, was ambushed in the parking lot outside his apartment and stabbed in his kicking leg.
On Thursday, a jury convicted former backup punter Mitch Cozad of second-degree assault. He was acquitted of the more serious charge of attempted first-degree murder.
Cozad, a 22-year-old from Wheatland, Wyo., faces up to 16 years in a Colorado prison when he's sentenced Oct. 2.
``We're glad he (Rafael) can go back to his regular routine,'' Mendoza's mother, Florence, said Thursday.
And that's all he wants to do - get back to his life before the attack.
``I hope we can put this behind us,'' he said.
After devouring a couple thick slices of pizza, Rafael Mendoza made his way around the table, hugging aunts and uncles, cousins and his brother and sisters. Florence Mendoza watched her son and the grin he flashed.
The Rafael she's always known is returning.
Still, Florence Mendoza can't help but feel sympathy for the Cozad family. She said she thought about them a lot over the nine-day trial.
``My heart has gone out for his family,'' she said. ``They're going through hard times. It's a sad situation.
``I told my son there's got to be forgiveness. (Cozad) did wrong. He made a bad choice. I put myself in their shoes, and my heart breaks.''
Yet her own son is still struggling with the aftermath of the attack.
He still doesn't feel safe at night and carries a long stick with him. Mendoza also moved into a house with a garage.
The one place he does feel comfortable is the football field, where he has been booming 50-yard punts since practice began Wednesday.
``I want to be a leader on the team,'' Mendoza said at a news conference after the verdict. ``I want to be a role model for the freshmen.''
And that means moving on.
The only question that remains for Mendoza is how much jail time Cozad will receive.
``Personally, I hope he gets the max,'' he said. ``But that's just me. It's setting a statement for every other athlete in the nation. If he gets the minimum, (the message is) it's OK to do it.''
Mendoza's father just wants Cozad to change.
``The good thing about it is this young man will be out in a few years, and I hope he'll straighten his life from there on and live a good life,'' Rafael Mendoza Sr. said. ``That's the only thing we can hope for them.''
Florence Mendoza said the incident has drawn the family even closer. Aunts and uncles from as far away as San Jose, Calif., came to town just to be there.
``This is how our family is - we support each other,'' she said. ``We're here for each other.
``We're just glad it's now over.''