Convicted punter’s family picks up pieces
Vail, CO Colorado
FORT COLLINS ” Michelle Weydert won’t play her senior season for the University of Wyoming volleyball team, and she’s switched to online classes.
That way, she can be closer to her fiance, Mitchell Cozad, the Northern Colorado backup punter convicted of assault in a stabbing attack on starting punter Rafael Mendoza. Cozad is in the Weld County jail in Fort Collins, awaiting his Oct. 2 sentencing. The 22-year-old faces between five and 16 years in prison.
“I believe in him so much,” said Weydert, a three-year letter winner for Wyoming who’s pictured on this season’s volleyball poster. “I know what a good person he is. The connection him and I have ” nobody is ever going to break that.”
She’s even moved from the Laramie campus to the home of Cozad’s mother, Suzanne Cozad, in Wheatland, Wyo., so they can offer each other support.
She and Suzanne Cozad talked with The Associated Press about the Mitch Cozad they said they know, not the one prosecutors portrayed as an “obsessed” punter at trial.
“Mitchell’s still in shock that all of this has happened,” his mother said.
Cozad was raised in Wheatland, population about 3,500. He rode bikes with the family’s doctor, saw the same dentist his entire life and is friends with the chief of police.
“Have you ever heard it takes a village to raise a child? Mitch would fit into that category,” his mother said. “He’s a laid-back and caring person.”
Cozad started punting in junior high and discovered he not only loved kicking, but had a knack for it. Through high school, he could be found on the football field every night, working on his technique. Suzanne Cozad would meet him there and walk on the track as he boomed punts.
“It was our way of spending time together,” she said.
She filmed his high school games and supported her son’s passion for punting. So she was dismayed when Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck claimed at trial that her son was “obsessed with meeting his mother’s expectations.”
“I’ve tried to be the best parent I could be,” she said. “I followed him in whichever direction he went. I didn’t give him a direction.”
She paused and spoke softly.
“The day before this tragedy, I was considered a good parent,” she said. “People were always telling me what a wonderful job I’d done raising my son. Within a period of 24 hours, I became one of the worst parents in the world. I know in my heart that I raised a good kid. I’m very proud of him. I’ll always be proud of him.”
Cozad transferred from Wyoming because he didn’t think he’d earn a scholarship with the Cowboys until his senior season. Although he had other offers, he chose Northern Colorado because it was close to home.
He averaged 43.7 yards a punt during fall camp with the Bears and set a team weightlifting mark for kickers when he benched 340 pounds.
On Aug. 9, a jury convicted Cozad of second-degree assault. He was acquitted of the more serious charge of attempted first-degree murder in the attack last September on Mendoza. Prosecutors argued that Cozad committed the crime because he was “obsessed with being the starting punter” and “the big man on campus.”
“Not true,” Suzanne Cozad scoffed. “He’d help anyone who needed help. He’d share anything with anyone. He’s an easygoing kid.”
Weydert first saw Cozad in math class at Wyoming her freshman year. It wasn’t until she was sitting in the dining hall, with two black eyes, that they finally spoke.
Weydert had collided with another player during a volleyball tournament, sustaining a concussion and what she termed “raccoon eyes.” Cozad saw her and asked what happened.
“I told him, ‘If you think I’m bad, you should see the other girl,”‘ Weydert said with a grin. “We laughed and talked about what happened. It didn’t matter what I looked like at the time, he liked me for my personality.”
Soon, they began dating. A year later, Cozad asked Weydert’s parents for permission to marry their daughter. He proposed in a Laramie, Wyo., restaurant.
“It was very romantic,” Weydert said.
Now, Weydert makes the five-hour round trip from Wyoming to see her fiance for 30-minute jail visits on a video monitor.
“There will never be a visitation day where he doesn’t see me,” she said.
But it’s hard talking to him through a monitor.
“I’m at ease around him. Having him gone is hard,” Weydert said as tears rolled down her face. “I’m used to holding him, hugging him, kissing him.”
Suzanne Cozad extended a comforting hand. The two have grown closer in recent weeks and have bought cell phones with Greeley numbers so that it’s not so expensive for Mitch Cozad to call them from jail.
Weydert’s cell phone rang. It was Mitch, and she stepped into the hall to talk. She came back with a smile and the tears gone.
“Hearing him say he loves me helps me,” she said. “It can turn a bad day into a good day.”
Soon after the verdict, Mendoza’s mother, Florence, said she felt sympathy for Cozad’s family.
“It’s a sad situation,” she said. “They’re going through hard times.”
Suzanne Cozad said she appreciated the kind words.
“To all the families ” Mitchell’s family, Rafael’s family ” the heartache is unbearable,” she said. “It’s so painful. No one deserved to have to go through this. It’s so hard on everyone.”