Mendoza, right, and Cozad at a Northern Colorado practice before the stabbing. Now, there is truly only one place he can go to get away from all this madness, one place he can go where he's treated the same way he was before he was stabbed in that dark parking lot on Sept. 11.
The football field.
There, he's just one of the guys, a kicker who messes around in practice, winning hit-the-crossbar challenges against the other kickers. It is on the football field where Mendoza is able to escape his nightmares and leave that fateful night behind.
He feels safe on the field. Here, it's all about focus. Wait for the snap. Catch it. Kick it. Run.
"That's the only time I can escape it all," Mendoza said. "It's just like the good old days, kicking, punting, being with my teammates. I'm just one of the guys. Not the guy."
When he needs a pick-me-up, all Mendoza needs to do is log on to his MySpace page, where punters, cheerleaders, quarterbacks and other college kids have gathered to encourage him in his recovery. He says he's needed every one of the 400-plus friend requests he's received to pull him through.
There are two games left in Northern Colorado's season (the Bears are 1-8) and for now, Mendoza is running on autopilot. When the season comes to an end and life settles down a bit, he plans to visit with a counselor and get some help. He says he doesn't know how counselors work and he isn't sure what counseling will do for him, but he knows he has nothing to lose. Maybe it will help him sleep. Maybe it will get rid of the nightmares. Or maybe, most of all, it will help him feel normal again.
That's all Rafael Mendoza wants.
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.