Aaron Hernandez had everything to lose, and he has. He lost everything.
As recently as two years ago, Hernandez was a rising NFL star. A tight end who had won a national championship in college at the University of Florida and a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
He was widely regarded as a top-tier football talent. He had a multi-million dollar NFL contract, a young fiancé--his high school sweetheart, no less--and a 2-year-old daughter. The world was in his hands, but the sure-handed receiver fumbled it and then demolished it.
On Wednesday a judge sentenced Hernandez, 25, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first degree murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd in June 2013.
Less than a year before, Hernandez had signed a five year $40 million dollar contract with the NFL’s most elite team in August 2012. At the time it was the most lucrative contract in league history for a tight end.
The guaranteed $16 million payout was his reward for years of success on the field.
As a young man he played high school ball for Bristol Central High School in Connecticut, earning first team all-state honors, and breaking a state receiving record as a junior in 2005.
He was the pride of Bristol, now the mayor of that city is calling Hernandez as “disgusting.”
He was named an All-American at Florida and led the Gators to a national championship win in 2009. He was a favorite target for quarterback Tim Tebow.
Hernandez was only 20 when he got drafted by the Patriots in 2010. He led them to a big playoff win in 2011 against the Denver Broncos and had a big game in Super Bowl XLVI.
For all intents and purposes, Hernandez was a winner in the game of football who wound up a miserable loser in the game of life—and now, according to a jury of his peers, a murderer.
Friends of the Hernandez family will tell you this precipitous fall began in January 2006 after the unexpected death of his father, Dennis, following complications from a hernia surgery. He was only 49.
“He wasn't the same kid, the way he spoke to me,” Hernandez’s mother Terri told USA Today in 2009. “He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry.”
His father has been described as his closest friend and mentor, according to the Boston Herald. He has tattoos with his father’s favorite sayings, including, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
His father’s death is cited as the reason why he choose to play for Florida instead of the University of Connecticut, where he had committed.
While at Florida, though, the accolades weren’t enough to shield him from trouble. Rumors persisted that he tested positive for marijuana and was hanging around with an entourage of friends who were deemed unsavory, according to the Hartford Courant.
Florida Coach Urban Meyer began reading the Bible with Hernandez every morning as he tried to cope with losing his father.
The worry about his emotional state and his reported admission to having used marijuana dropped his NFL stock in 2010 from first round to fourth in the draft. A scouting service that prepares confidential psychological profiles of players said Hernandez enjoyed “living on the edge of acceptable behavior,” and could become a “problem” for his team.
He reportedly received the lowest possible score on a personality test measuring social maturity. Teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals stayed away from Hernandez because of his character.
Despite the concerns, family, friends and Hernandez himself believed he would get past it.
In 2012, in an emotional press conference, Hernandez spoke to reporters after signing his Patriots contract while also acknowledging that his first child was on the way.
“It’s surreal. Is it really true?,” Hernandez said of his new NFL contract. "This is probably one of the best days of my life," he said. "I'll remember this day forever."
Hernandez said the “Patriot Way” and coach Bill Belichick had changed his life.
But no matter how many coaches tried to mentor Hernandez, he could never shake his demons.
His name and likeness have been removed from plaques and buildings at the University of Florida. His jersey was destroyed by the Patriots.
No tremendous block, great catch-and-run or touchdown reception can save him now.