Before the events of the past few years, Bristol native Aaron Hernandez was a talented athlete in multiple arenas, dating back to even before his days at Bristol Central. Hernandez was a star, both in the area and once he went professional, and became one of the city’s biggest celebrities.
Hernandez played in the McCabe-Water Little League in the early 2000’s and was on the Yankees team that lost to the Edgewood Cardinals in the City Little League Baseball Championship in 2002. Earlier that year, Hernandez was also named the most valuable player for the seventh-grade boys basketball team by the Bristol Boys & Girls Club.
Hernandez entered Bristol Central for the 2003-04 academic year and immediately made an impact in athletics. In his high school career, he played four years of football in the fall and three years of basketball in the winter, while also running outdoor track in the spring of his junior year. Hernandez left Bristol Central after the fall semester of his senior year to focus on training to play college football.
His freshman year coincided with his brother D.J.’s senior season and they played together on the gridiron and the hardcourt. D.J. was the quarterback of the Rams in 2003-04 and the two hooked up for plenty of receptions that year.
Hernandez’s football career at Bristol Central ended up being a historic one. In 2005, he set Connecticut state records for most receiving yards in a single game and in a single season. On Nov. 4, 2005, Hernandez racked up 376 yards against Newington, passing the previous record of 335 set by St. Paul’s Bob Simeone in 1980. Hernandez finished the 2005 campaign with 1,807 yards, which was 134 yards more than the previous mark.
By the end of his senior season, Hernandez added another state record to his resume. With 1,334 yards in the 2006 season, he totaled 3,677 yards on 172 career receptions. All three of those marks still stand to this day as state records, in addition to being Bristol Central school records.
Following his senior season, Hernandez was selected as the Connecticut Gatorade Football Player of the Year, making him the third Ram to earn the award. The other two were Tim Washington in 2001-02 and D.J. in 2003-04.
While Hernandez was a member, the Bristol Central boys basketball team experienced a three-year stretch that resulted in 43 wins. In the 2003-04 season, the Rams claimed the top seed in the Class LL tournament, advancing to the semifinal round before being bounced by Bridgeport Central by four points in overtime. Bristol Central reached the postseason in each of the following three seasons.
When competing on the track, Hernandez was a member of the Rams’ 4x100 relay team alongside Jesse Conrad, Dustin Tucker and Chris Janczyk. He also took part in the shot put.
Thanks to his prowess on the football field, Hernandez received interest from many college programs, including the University of Florida, which he chose to attend and spurned the University of Connecticut and head coach Randy Edsall. Over three seasons with the Gators, Hernandez piled up 111 receptions for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his junior season, he won the John Mackey Award for the nation’s best tight end.
Tim Tebow, one of Hernandez’s teammates at Florida, declined to comment through a Columbia Fireflies spokesperson Wednesday.
Hernandez left Florida after his junior season to enter the 2010 NFL Draft. The New England Patriots took Hernandez with the 113th pick (4th Round) in the draft. Also chosen in that draft was person who Hernandez would form a formidable tandem with in Foxboro: Rob Gronkowski.
In three regular seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez played 38 games, piling up 175 receptions, 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also participated in Super Bowl XLVI, contributing a 12-yard touchdown as part of his eight-catch, 67-yard line.
His last game in the NFL was the 2012 AFC Championship game, in which the Patriots fell 28-13 to the Baltimore Ravens. Hernandez had nine catches - the most in the game - and 83 yards.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @K_baum30