Exactly 10 years ago, Aaron Hernandez was a high school senior who had already committed to play football at the University of Florida. He was coming off a monster senior season, in which he broke the Connecticut state records for receiving yards and touchdowns on his way to being named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
We all know by now that there was another side to Hernandez that he was able to hide from us for the most-part. But there was a string of incidents that began around this time a decade ago. Some of this can be attributed to the loss of his father in 2006, which apparently had a huge effect on his persona:
“He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry”, his mother said to USA Today Sports in 2009, “He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger.”
After previously committing to the University of Connecticut, Hernandez ultimately chose to play at the University of Florida under Urban Meyer in January of 2007.
Hernandez’s host during his recruitment visits to Florida was none other than the Gators’ quarterback at that time, Tim Tebow. On April 28th, 2007, 17 year-old Hernandez was out at a bar with Tebow when he allegedly refused to pay his bill after consuming two alcoholic drinks. An altercation arose, Tebow tried to break it up, and Hernandez eventually had to be escorted out of the restaurant by an employee. When the employee turned around to go back inside, Hernandez punched him on the side of the head and ruptured his eardrum. The incident was eventually settled out of court with a deferred prosecution agreement.
That was only the beginning. On September 30, 2007, just a month into Hernandez’s freshman season at Florida, someone fired five shots into a car containing Randall Carson, Justin Glass, and Corey Smith while they were waiting at a stoplight in Gainesville. Glass, the driver, was shot in the arm. Smith was shot in the back of the head and still suffers seizures as a result. Carson, who was uninjured, told police that the shooter was a “Hawaiian” or “Hispanic” male with a large build weighing about 230 pounds with a lot of tattoos. No charges were filed at the time, but after Hernandez’s eventual arrest in 2013 for the murder of Odin Lloyd, Massachusetts authorities reached out to police in Florida to reopen the investigation.
Hernandez started three games as a freshman in 2007. As a sophomore in 2008, he started 11 of 13 games and helped the Gators win the National Championship. In the championship game against Oklahoma, he led the team with 57 receiving yards on five receptions. He was on top of the world at this point, and problems he may have had appeared to be in the rear-view.
Things would only get better for him in 2009, when he became just the second junior in history to win the John Mackey Award for the best tight end in the country. He finished the season with 68 receptions, 850 yards, and five touchdowns, earning him First-Team All-SEC and First-Team All-American honors.
Due to his success, Hernandez decided to forego his senior year and declare for the 2010 NFL Draft. Despite his talent, he slid down to the 113th pick in the draft because there were concerns about his character. Failed drug tests and rumors about possible gang affiliations were definitely reasons for hesitation, but his name had yet to be linked to any serious crimes. So the Pats took a chance on him.
They knew that one of his issues was his short fuse, and that didn’t take too long to show in the locker room. There are reports that the 20 year-old Hernandez angrily threatened Wes Welker, saying “fuck you Wes! I’ll fuck you up!” after Welker simply poked fun at him the way that any veteran would to a rookie.
Hernandez entered the 2010 season as the youngest player on any active roster in the NFL, but he didn’t play like it. In week 2 against the Jets, he became the youngest player since 1960 to rack up 100 receiving yards in a game. He would finish the season with 45 receptions for 563 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games.
In 2011, Hernandez changed his jersey number from 85 to 81 to accommodate new acquisition Chad Johnson, who had legally changed his name to Chad Ochocinco at that point. After putting together his first Pro Bowl season at just 22 years old and becoming part of the greatest tight end tandem in NFL history with Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez had an opportunity to top it all off with a Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLVI took place on February 5th, 2012. The Patriots led 10-9 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter when Tom Brady found Aaron Hernandez for a 12-yard touchdown:
We know how the rest of that game went, but that’s not the point. The reason this is significant is because five months after Aaron Hernandez scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl, 29-year-old Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and 28-year-old Safiro Teixeira Furtado were murdered in Boston on July 16, 2012. A crime that would later be linked to Hernandez, but at the time his name wasn’t even in the conversation.
If it was, he wouldn’t have signed a five-year, $41 million contract extension the next month. Hernandez penned the deal on August 27th, 2012, and the first thing he did was donate $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund. Robert Kraft was touched by the kind gesture:
“One of the touching moments since I’ve owned the team — knowing that this is our charitable gala– Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed, and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund,” Kraft said at the 2012 Patriots Charitable Foundation Kickoff Gala. “I said ‘Aaron, you don’t have to do this, you’ve already got your contract.’ And he said ‘No, it makes me feel good and I want to do it.’”
Kraft went on to say that Hernandez is “a super player and really a first class guy”. And Aaron himself said all the right things to make us think that was actually the case:
“I just feel a lot of respect and I owe it back to him,” said Hernandez. “Not only is it $50,000, cause that’s not really, that’s just the money that really doesn’t mean much, with the amount given, it’s more, I have a lot more to give back, and all I can do is play my heart out for them, make the right decisions, and live life as a Patriot.”
Hernandez acknowledged that he hadn’t always made the right decisions, but he was a changed man thanks to Kraft and Belichick:
“You get changed by Bill Belichick’s way,” Hernandez said. “And you get changed by the Patriots way. And now that I’m a Patriot, I have to start living like one and making the right decisions for them.”
Three months later, on November 6th, 2012, Aaron Hernandez’s daughter, Avielle, was born.
Fast-forward another three months to February 13th, 2013, and that’s when Alexander Bradley claims he was shot in the face by Hernandez after a night out together. Bradley, a former friend of Hernandez, says that Aaron did indeed commit that double homicide in Boston in July of 2012. According to Bradley, he was in the car with Hernandez when the drive-by shooting occurred and they immediately fled to Connecticut. Being that Bradley was the only witness, he says Hernandez grew paranoid and eventually shot him between the eyes and left him for dead in an industrial park in Riviera Beach, Florida. Bradley survived, and remembers calling Hernandez shortly after the shooting to let him know. Hernandez was apparently shocked to find out he was still alive.
The next few months were the last of Aaron Hernandez’s life as a free man.
June 17, 2013 – Semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd was shot and killed. The murder occurred in an industrial park in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, a mile from Aaron Hernandez’s home, which was searched the next day.
June 21, 2013 – Video surfaced placing Hernandez and Lloyd together on the night of the murder.
June 22, 2013 – Alexander Bradley filed his civil suit against Hernandez for shooting him four months earlier.
June 23, 2013 – Hernandez’s home was searched again for hours. This time with dogs.
June 26, 2013 – Hernandez was arrested at his home and charged with murder after overwhelming evidenced pointed to him as the killer. News cameras looked on as he was escorted out of his house with his arms behind his back, held together by handcuffs hidden underneath a white t-shirt that had been placed on him after the cuffs were applied. The Patriots released him that same day.
June 27th, 2013 – Investigators suggest that Aaron Hernandez might be connected to the 2012 double homicide in Boston.
In July of 2013, everyone was faced with the realization that Aaron Hernandez wasn’t the person we all thought he was. The University of Florida got rid of any and all Aaron Hernandez commemorations, even removing the brick honoring his selection to the All-American team. The Patriots hosted a jersey exchange at Gillette Stadium, allowing fans to trade in their Hernandez jersey for the jersey of another player of their choice.
September of 2013 – Hernandez pleaded not guilty to the murder of Odin Lloyd.
January 16, 2014 – Boston police documents connected Hernandez to the 2012 double homicide.
Also in January of 2014, Hernandez attacked and beat up an inmate who was in handcuffs.
April of 2014 – Hernandez was investigated for allegedly threatening to kill a prison guard.
May 1, 2014 – Hernandez was charged with assault after fighting with another inmate.
On May 15, 2014, he was indicted for the murders of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in the 2012 double homicide in Boston.
May 28, 2014 – he pleaded not guilty to the double homicide. Prosecutors said the incident stemmed from a spilled drink.
January 9, 2015 – the Odin Lloyd murder trial began in Fall River, MA.
April 15, 2015 – Hernandez is found guilty of the first-degree murder of Odin Lloyd. He’s sentenced to life in prison without parole.
May 11, 2015 – Hernandez is indicted on a charge related to the shooting of Alexander Bradley in 2013.
December 4, 2015 – Hernandez is moved to solitary confinement after prison guards find a shank in his cell.
June 8, 2016 – Jose Baez, the infamous Florida attorney who defended Casey Anthony in 2011, is brought in to serve as lead counsel for Hernandez during the trial for the 2012 double homicide in Boston.
December 20, 2016 – Hernandez was identified as the trigger man in the 2012 double homicide in Boston.
April 14, 2017 – Hernandez was found not guilty in the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston.
April 19, 2017 – Hernandez was found hanging by a bed sheet in his cell at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center just after 3 a.m. ET. Hernandez, 27, was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m.
And there you have it. The final decade of Aaron Hernandez’s 27-year life. The highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows packed into 10 confusing and completely twisted years. This guy was able to trick everyone, even himself, into believing that he was capable of staying out of trouble and being a respectable person. Despite leading the kind of double life you’d normally only see in a movie, he was able climb from high school phenom to college All-American to NFL star before his criminal tendencies finally caught up with him. What a bizarre story.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour