Just outside Mendoza's apartment door, down a flight of stairs, is the site of the scariest moment of his life. Every time he arrives home, a place that should bring solace and comfort, he relives the blow to the back of the head, the scuffle to fight off his attacker and the burning sensation of the knife carving into his thigh. He sees the pool of blood around his shoes, the flashing lights of the ambulance and the horrified look on his mother's face in the emergency room, on her birthday no less.
"My biggest fear is [the alleged attacker] is out on bail," Mendoza said. "His life is already ruined -- there's nothing left to lose. And if he was crazy enough to do it in the first place, what's going to stop him from finishing the job?"
"The hardest part is seeing how it's changed him. It's hard seeing him get out of the car and look around and be nervous. He just isn't in that comfort zone that he was before. One day he's good and the next day, well, not so good. It's sad." -- Meghan Gregory, Rafael Mendoza's fiancee Mendoza tried to get out of his lease and move to a new apartment, preferably to a home with a garage, where he could pull his car in and shut the door behind him, but his landlord refused to cooperate. The incident didn't happen in his apartment, Mendoza was told, and leaving early would constitute a violation of his lease.
Meanwhile, Geraldo has called. Greta has called. So, too, has "Good Morning America." They all want to know what happened. Two weeks ago, when the Weld County District Attorney added the attempted first-degree murder to Cozad's second-degree assault charge, Mendoza said the buzz started again. His classmates again began pointing him out and whispering as he walked by on campus. Some openly asked if the attempted murder charge wasn't a tad, well, over-the-top.
Mendoza can't go into specifics because the case is pending, but he told ESPN.com that once the facts come out, he's confident the attempted murder charge will stand up.
"I don't believe he was going for my leg," Mendoza said. "I don't believe he just wanted to hurt me."
In the emergency room that night, Mendoza's mind was spinning. He couldn't figure out who, or why. Did someone want to steal his car, a Jeep Cherokee? Did someone want his rims? His upgraded stereo system?
His mom had another thought. During the drive on the way to the hospital, Florence told her two daughters: "I just hope it wasn't the backup punter." Mendoza's daughters couldn't believe what they were hearing. Earlier, when they called their father, who was away on a hunting trip, to tell him what had happened, he said the exact the same thing.
Backup punter Mitch Cozad has been charged with attempted murder of the starter, Rafael Mendoza.
"There was no reason why, no clues, no nothing," Florence Mendoza said. "It's just that my son has no reason somebody should want anything that he has. He doesn't have enemies. So I don't know why, but that's what came to my heart -- this prayer that it wasn't the backup punter."
Though Florence says she kept the thought from her son, Rafael said his mother mentioned it to him on the drive back to Thornton. Right there, in the car, he said, he defended every one of the kickers -- Cozad included.
"I just told her to stop it," he said. "It was crazy."