Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The sad, tragic life of Aaron Hernandez

There are so many levels of emotion attached to the news of Aaron Hernandez's death.

Tragic is a word associated with Hernandez, who I would include among the most talented high school football players I have ever seen play. He had size, speed and he simply was unstoppable.
It was 11 years ago when I was assigned the story to do a feature on Hernandez for the Register's special section previewing the high school football season so I set up an interview with Hernandez and his mom in the parking lot of Bristol Central High School. What do I remember about that day?

For whatever reason, it was that I was running late. It is one of my pet peeves, if I say I'm going to be somewhere at 2, I will almost always arrive no later that 1:45. But on that day I was running behind schedule.  I've been doing this for more than 30 years and if I counted the number of times I ran late, I would need only one hand and would have a couple of fingers left over. I remember how understanding they were once I did finally make my way there.

The interview went well and I wish I could post a link to the story I wrote on Hernandez but the online archives don't go back that far. The best I can do is provide a link to the story through another archive service.

It was a more innocent time. Hernandez was coming off a junior season when he set the Connecticut single-season mark for receiving yards (breaking Seymour's Dennis Rozum's 36-year-old mark).

Another brilliant season followed as a senior and I was part of the committee who picked Hernandez as the Register's State Player of the Year. Although there was plenty of competition as Bunnell's Steve Smith had an absolutely brilliant season, Ansonia's Alex Thomas was in the midst of a record-breaking career. Mike Golic Jr. was headed to Notre Dame and players like Dan Mulrooney of Holy Cross, future UConn players Erik Kuraczea and Marcus Campbell were first-team All-State picks as was current MLB catcher Curt Casali. However, Hernandez was clearly the player of the year. He still owns Connecticut high school career records for catches, receiving yards and TD receptions.

I had no idea then what the future had in store for Hernandez or any of the honorees. Certainly I never envisioned he would be sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murder or that I would wake up to the news that he allegedly committed suicide in his jail cell.

I have conflicted emotions at the current time. I believe that was the only time I interviewed Hernandez so I can't provide a glimpse into his soul or say that I knew him particularly well but I am saddened by the carnage he left in his wake. I mourn for the families who crossed paths with Hernandez and the victim/victims who lost their lives. I feel for Hernandez's family who must deal with the death of their family member at the age of 27. I also wonder what could have been. I remember watching Hernandez play in high school and thinking that there's no way he won't end up in the NFL. He did just that. If he had followed his brother D.J. to UConn as it first looked like he would, I'd have to think his name would be all over the UConn football record book. Instead he played at Florida for three years before leaving a year early for the NFL. There's no telling how many Super Bowls winning teams he would have been a part of, how many catches he would have made had he been able to stay out of trouble off the field.

Instead, he is a tragic figure, somebody who was blessed with an incredible amount of talent for football but never could fully realize those gifts. It upsets me that there will be countless online remembrances of a convicted murdered but the passing of murder victims like Odin Lloyd don't draw nearly the same amount of attention. I'm as much to blame in this instance as anybody else.

It's easy to suggest that the loss of his father forever changed Hernandez's journey but he's certainly not the first person to lose a parent at such a young age. There are plenty of examples of people dealing with the loss of loved ones going onto lead successful and productive lives.

I remember interviewing UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma about Hernandez, who he coached in AAU, back in 2013.

Among the things Auriemma said on that day, I thought he summed up the life of Hernandez perfectly when he said, 'it is just sad, no matter how it comes out it is sad."


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