PROVIDENCE, R.I. — You come looking to find out who Aaron Hernandez is, the New England kid who is starring for the New England Patriots.
You know all the obvious things.
You know that he is a tight end who catches passes like a wide receiver.
You know that he has made the transition from the University of Florida to the NFL.
You know he was special, whether it was once being the high school player of the year in Connecticut, or the best tight end in college football in 2009.
You know that he has a Hispanic name, which makes him relatively unique in the world of the NFL.
And you now that he’s one of the incredible weapons Tom Brady has in his arsenal.
But who is Aaron Hernandez, anyway?
So you come into the Brown football office one morning to talk to his older brother, D.J., who once played at UConn and is now the quarterbacks coach at Brown.
You’ve already been to Foxboro, already have stood in the Pats’ locker room waiting to talk to Hernandez. But this is the Patriots, where players are either in meetings, or going to meetings, and just about the last thing they’re going to do is tell you their story.
So Aaron Hernandez doesn’t tell you that he went to Bristol Central High School, doesn’t tell you that he was the Gatorade player of the year in Connecticut as a senior in high school, doesn’t tell you that he set a state record for receiving yards, or that he tied the state record with 71 touchdowns. He doesn’t tell you that he set a state receiving record, and a national record for yards receiving per game.
Nor does he tell you that a failed drug test for marijuana at Florida no doubt dropped him to the fourth round when he obviously was a first-round talent.
But maybe he tells you something better before he changes his shirt and is off to another meeting.
"I just followed my brother’s footsteps," he said. "I just tried to follow his work ethic. Because he did everything the right way. He was always successful."
"I probably could have followed his footsteps a little better than I sometimes did," he says, "but without my brother I wouldn’t be here today."
So now you are talking to his brother, who looks much like Aaron — close-cropped hair, someone whose father is Puerto Rican and his mother is of Italian heritage. You are talking to his brother, who played quarterback and wide receiver at UConn, as his father once had played at UConn before him, the father who died at 49 years old from complications after hernia surgery.
"I was 20 when he died and my brother was 17," D.J. Hernandez said. "It was tough. It was difficult for him."
So D.J. became the surrogate father, even though they once had played on the same high school team in Bristol, D.J. as a senior star, Aaron as a freshman.
"He was horrible that year," laughs D.J. "He had size 13 feet and he was always tripping over them. But you could tell he was going to be a great athlete. He was dunking a basketball in the eighth grade."
D.J. Hernandez went off to UConn, while Aaron Hernandez became a supernova of high-school football stars in Connecticut, committing to UConn before his high-school coach sent a game tape of him to Florida and everything changed. By the time he was a sophomore, he led the Gators in receiving yards as Florida won the national championship. The next year he was a first team All-American.
Last year, his first with the Pats, he started the season as the youngest active player on an NFL roster. In the season’s 15th week, he was the rookie of the week in the NFL.
Hernandez now has teamed with fellow tight end Dan Gronkowski to give the Patriots a two-headed tight-end monster. In October, he had five catches against the Jets and against the Cowboys, he came back from a fumble to catch the winning pass with just 22 seconds left.
That is what we all see.
What we don’t see is the maturation of Aaron Hernandez, whose father died when he was 17 years old, and whose brother became both his role model and his keeper.
"He would have made my father proud," says D.J. Hernandez.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service via Newscom.