Texas Christian University football player Cole Novak said he never saw the man who, with a sucker punch, broke his jaw outside of a West Sixth Street bar last summer and wiped out what should have been his senior season with the Horned Frogs.
Novak, a Georgetown High graduate who plays tight end at TCU, testified Tuesday in Travis County state District Court he was trying to defuse an argument between his brother and another man when he was hit from the side so hard he thought the attack might have been with a baseball bat.
Several witnesses said the man who struck Novak in the early morning hours of June 17, 2017, was 25-year-old defendant Humberto Barrera, who pleaded not guilty to second-degree felony aggravated assault at the beginning of his trial. Barrera, who has no felony convictions on his record, faces two to 20 years in prison if the jury convicts him. He is eligible for probation.
Family members and associates who were with Novak that day took the witness stand and gave their testimony about the events that led to the punch.
Novak’s brother, 24-year-old Cade Novak, said he had exited the upstairs bathroom at the Concrete Cowboy when he saw a man speaking with his girlfriend and punched him. Security escorted the men outside of the bar where the confrontation cooled down and turned verbal.
The man requested an explanation for why Cade Novak had hit him. He told the man he should not have been speaking with his girlfriend, prompting the man to laugh.
“Nothing was getting heated,” Cade Novak said.
Cole Novak said he walked up and asked the man why he was laughing at his brother. Multiple witnesses said Barrera, who was with the man at a bachelor party, came running from behind, wound up and blindsided Cole with a punch to the left side of his face. Blood poured down Cole’s blue shirt and his hat fell off his head. He said he was dazed, but did not immediately appreciate the extent of his injuries.
Barrera flexed and talked aggressively, indicating he wanted the fight to continue, several witnesses said.
“I think he just kind of wanted to fight,” the Novaks’ cousin, Judy McVean, said.
“It’s burned into my head — the punch and the sound of my brother’s jaw,” Cade Novak said.
Cole Novak said he was not looking for a fight when he approached the man. “I had no intention of hurting anybody or going after anybody,” he said.
Prosecutor Jeremy Sylestine told the jury the punch was not a lawful reaction to the confrontation.
“You have to be reasonable in your assessment of threat,” he said.
Barrera’s lawyer, Allison Heathman, declined to make an opening statement Tuesday, leaving open the possibility she is saving her comments for Wednesday when the defense presents its case.
Barrera of Del Rio is 5-foot-9 and weighs 168 pounds, according to court documents. Police say they identified him through social media photos taken on the night of the incident.
Surgery was required to place screws and plates in Cole Novak’s jaw area, and he could not open his mouth to speak clearly for three weeks. He said he still experiences pain in his mouth and that two teeth on the bottom row of his mouth are dead. Novak, who is 6-foot-6, was on a liquid and soft food diet and lost 25 pounds — dropping well below the 260 pounds his coaches at TCU said he needed to weigh to get playing time.
“I don’t think I’ll ever eat another piece of salmon again,” he cracked.
Novak’s father, Jeff Novak, a former NFL player with the Jacksonville Jaguars and member of Texas State University’s athletic hall of honor, told the American-Statesman the family will pursue a lawsuit against Barrera after the completion of the criminal case.
His son, a reserve player for TCU, was recently granted an additional season of eligibility and is participating in the team’s preseason practices.