‘Murder Under the Friday Night Lights: Twisted Teammate’ profiles the unexpected case of a star punter named Rafael Mendoza of the University of Northern Colorado. When he is stabbed, with the intention of murder, all the football-devoted communities are rocked and taken aback by the deadly and alarming incident. The episode also delves into the intricate details of the case, involving the investigation that followed, supported by the interviews with the victim’s loved ones and the officials related to the case.
What Happened to Rafael Mendoza and Mitch Cozad?
Rafael Mendoza, a junior at the University of Northern Colorado, was the starting punter for the college team in 2006. In the two games that season, he reportedly recorded an impressive average of 37.6 yards per punt on nine punts, which justifies his selection over other punters in line. However, it seems like there were some other members on the team, eyeing to replace the Thornton local in the team and get recognition. So, when Rafael beat Mitch Cozad, of Wheatland, Wyoming, to earn the starting position on the team, the latter was highly distressed by it and was more than determined to reverse it, as per the claims of their teammates.
Eyeing a chance to become the first-choice punter, the backup punter, Cozad, dressed all in black and face hidden by a tightly drawn hood, caught Mendoza by surprise in a fit of jealousy on the night of September 11, 2006. After spotting Mendoza in the parking lot of his apartment complex in the town of Evans, Cozad attacked him in the lot, allegedly attempting to murder him. However, Mendoza fought off Cozad’s attempts to pierce a five-inch knife into his chest and ended up suffering a deep wound in his kicking leg, which kept him off the team and field for about 10 days or so. Unfortunately, Mendoza was not able to figure out the identity of the attacker.
Thankfully, another car entered the parking lot and made the assailant flee the scene in his black Dodge Charger, whose number plates were taped. Cozad might have thought that he had gotten away with it, but just after 10 minutes or so, the employees of a liquor store witnessed him and another man, Kevin Aussprung, pulling the tape off the Wyoming plates, which they were able to gather, and informed the police right away about the two men. They also provided the authorities with the license number, after which they traced the car to the backup punter. Soon, apart from being suspended from the school and the team, Mitch Cozad was also arrested on the charges of attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault on September 12, 2006.
Where is Rafael Mendoza Now?
After the attack on his kicking leg, Rafael Mendoza tried to continue his football career but things didn’t turn out to go his way. A year after the attack, Rafael Mendoza graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and entered working life. On March 13, 2010, he married the love of his life Meghan Mendoza. During the course of their marriage, they have welcomed three beautiful sons. In February 2015, the former punter established his company Mendoza Sewer & Water Service, Inc., where he still works as an owner to this day. Happily married to his wife, he stays active on social media where he shares photos of his family, including his three sons regularly.
Where is Mitch Cozad Now?
Mitch Cozad stood trial for the attempted murder of Rafael Mendoza on July 30, 2007. During the trial, the defendant and his lawyer tried to accuse Kevin Aussprung, the man who was with Cozad in the car at the time of the fatal stabbing, of the crime. Moreover, Angela Vogel claimed that she was with him when Mendoza was stabbed. However, it didn’t take long for her to retract her statement and admit that she was lying. She later testified that Cozad had left her for some part of the evening, around the time of the stabbing.
In light of all these testimonies and evidence, in August 2007, the jury found Mitch Cozad guilty of second-degree assault on Rafael Mendoza. A couple of months later, on October 2, 2007, the former Northern Colorado backup punter was sentenced to seven years in prison for the brutal stabbing of his rival. After his sentencing, the convict shared a few words in front of the court, “I am very sorry to everyone for any pain and suffering you’ve endured. My hopes and prayers are to Mr. Mendoza and his family that they don’t suffer anymore as a result of this ordeal.”
Following the apology, Mendoza didn’t think that Cozad meant any word of it. He said, “I think it might have been what his lawyer told him to say. It seems scripted. He might feel something, but there was no reaction from him when he was convicted.”After serving more than three years behind bars, Cozad was eligible for a parole hearing in January 2011. During an interview with Scoop Earth, Cozad opened up about his experience in prison and how much he struggled to fight away his demons.
Cozad said, “Your mind really is a battlefield, where you must choose to fight negativity and focus on being productive. I had plenty of days where I couldn’t see my way forward. I kept going, though, because I wanted to improve myself while I was in prison and to lay the groundwork for achieving my dream: becoming an attorney.” Once he got out of prison, he went to college again and worked towards his dream of becoming an attorney, earning himself a bachelor’s, master’s, and Juris Doctor degrees. As of now, he is a criminal defense attorney for the state of Colorado.