Former Northern Colorado backup punter Mitch Cozad was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday for stabbing the starter in his kicking leg.

Cozad was convicted in August of second-degree assault in the September 2006 attack on Rafael Mendoza. He was acquitted of the more serious charge of attempted first-degree murder.

The 22-year-old Cozad faced up to 16 years in prison.

Mendoza was ambushed outside his apartment on the night of Sept. 11. He couldn't say who attacked him in the dimly lighted parking lot. He testified the assailant was dressed in black from head to toe and had a hood cinched up so only the eyes were visible.

Prosecutors argued Cozad stabbed Mendoza because he was "obsessed with being the starting punter" and "the big man on campus."

Cozad was a junior walk-on when he joined Northern Colorado's football team last season after transferring from the University of Wyoming. During the trial, prosecutors portrayed him as an ambitious but frustrated athlete who stabbed Mendoza because he couldn't outplay him on the field. But defense attorney Joseph Gavaldon argued Cozad was a gentle and laid-back student who wouldn't resort to a knife attack.