Hernandez speaks about his tatoos and life in this 2009 article from USA Today. Unfortunately he does not appear to have "walked the talk".
Florida tight end Hernandez honors father's memory Updated 10/11/2009 5:24 AM | Comment | Recommend E-mail | Print | Enlarge By Kim Klement, US Presswire Whether it is Tebow or Brantley under center, Florida Gators junior tight end Aaron Hernandez will have pressure on his shoulders come Saturday's game against the No. 4 LSU Tigers. Hernandez shares the team lead in catches and touchdown receptions for No. 1 Florida. MORE ON TWITTER LIVING FOR SATURDAYS
By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Aaron Hernandez's arms tell his life story. From his shoulders to his knuckles, it's drawn in pictures and verse.
The broad shoulders and sure hands of Florida's tight end will be counted on Saturday when the No. 1 Gators face No. 4 LSU in Baton Rouge, their most challenging test of the season. With quarterback Tim Tebow recovering from a concussion suffered two weeks ago and backupJohn Brantley possibly making his first start, much will be expected of Hernandez.
If it is to be, it is up to me, reads a large tattoo on his left forearm, a favorite saying of his late father, Dennis.
"Playmakers touch balls," coach Urban Meyer says about Hernandez, a 6-2, 250-pound junior tied for first on the team in receptions (15) and touchdown catches (two) and second in receiving yards (198). "If you take out one playmaker, the role has to increase."
Ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing offense (307.5 yards a game) but 58th in passing (218.8), Florida might need to rely more on its passing game. "You have to be balanced to win a big game, and right now we're not," Meyer says.
From his one-handed grab against South Carolina last year to his key catch on a shovel pass in the fourth quarter against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game to his team-leading five receptions for 57 yards against Oklahoma in the national title game, Hernandez has brought star power to a position normally overshadowed by flashy receivers.
"I love having the ball in my hands," he says.
The difference between the impossible and the possible lies on a person's determination, reads another of his father's favorite quotes on Hernandez's arm.
When Dennis Hernandez died at 49 in January 2006 after complications from routine hernia surgery, his then-16-year-old son's world was shattered.
"It was more like a shock. Everyone was close to my father, but I was the closest," Hernandez says. "I was with him more than my friends. When that happened, who do I talk to, who do I hang with? It was tough."
As a prep star in Bristol, Conn., in the 1970s, Dennis Hernandez was nicknamed "The King." Generous and gregarious, he seemingly touched everyone he met. Thousands poured into the funeral home for his services, Aaron says. There's a memorial in the courtyard of the high school where he worked as a custodian. A yearly golf tournament in his name funds two scholarships for local college-bound students.
Watching his sons play sports was Dennis' greatest joy, says his wife, Terri. The eldest, D.J., was a quarterback and wide receiver at Connecticut, for whom Dennis played. When Aaron was a sophomore at Bristol Central, his father and brother's alma mater, he verbally committed to the Huskies.
Soon after Aaron's junior season, his father's death opened a door of confusion. Rated the nation's No. 1 tight end by two recruiting services, he decided to consider other schools. His large extended family in Bristol weighed in as well.
"Everyone had a different opinion of where I should go," he says.
Recruited by Gators assistant coach Steve Addazio, who grew up just outside Bristol, Hernandez visited campus for the 2006 spring game and made his choice.
It was a hard time at home after his dad's death.
"It was a mess with a lot of family issues, fighting and disagreements," he says. "I'm the person who keeps both sides of my family together, and when I wasn't around it was crazy."
Hernandez played in every game his freshman season, starting three, but off the field he was still reeling.
"It was a rough process, and I didn't know what to do for him," Terri says. "He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry. He wasn't the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger."
Says D.J., who is three years older, "He was just lost."
Meyer stepped in when he realized a good kid was headed down the wrong path. "Urban became his father more or less and the team was his family," Terri says.
Every morning, Hernandez arrived at Meyer's office at 7:30 and read the Bible with his coach.
One day in February 2008 when Hernandez was struggling, Meyer met with him at noon in his office.
"It was a 10-hour meeting. We finished at my house at 10 o'clock. Then it continued the next day," Meyer says. "When your guy, your idol, your soul is taken from you, how do you deal with that? I just think there's a part of his life that was not there. He needed discipline; he needed someone to talk to."
Says Hernandez, "He helped me through a lot of that stuff. I would have horrible days, and he taught me to put things aside and work through it. We have a great relationship even though he wants to kill me half the time."
Then he smiles.
"He's my Aaron again," Terri says via phone while on lunch break from her job as a school secretary in Bristol. "Just now everything's getting better, and it took him three years. I thought I lost him for good. He wasn't the same kid. Now he's back, the same fun-loving Aaron."
'One storm at a time'
This past weekend, during a bye week, Hernandez flew home. He went to a football game featuring Southington High, for whom his brother is the quarterbacks coach. He saw as many friends and family members as possible. The sadness is still there.
"I don't go to his grave," he says. "I hide from it. I kind of feel like it didn't happen, still in denial, but I have a lot of support."
Meyer, who lost his mother to cancer nine years ago, knows about grief's ebbs and flows.
"We weathered the storm, but it's still off in the horizon. You just don't say goodbye. It's going to hit you in the third quarter against LSU or hit you when you have your first child. I learned it's one storm at a time."
Mostly, there is the old Aaron.
"We call him Chico," says offensive guard Mike Pouncey, one large half of the Pouncey twins. Why? "He's the only Puerto Rican on the team. (Hernandez's paternal grandparents were from Puerto Rico.) When you call him Aaron, he doesn't really respond. We got a new equipment manager and started calling him Chico, too, and Hernandez got kind of jealous. He said, 'I thought I was the only Chico.' "
With two players on the roster from Connecticut, Hernandez takes ribbing.
"We tell him he had to be good since they went all the way to Connecticut to get him," says Pouncey, who along with brother and center Maurkice shared an apartment with Hernandez last year.
"We tell him we recruit all the hotbeds — Florida, Texas, Georgia and Connecticut," Meyer says.
Stories in ink
Hernandez has uncommon versatility for a tight end.
"What makes him unique is that he's so athletic and he's one of those guys who can truly detach and be a legitimate receiver," says Addazio, the offensive coordinator. "He's a great route runner and has great speed. He's a hybrid tight end."
LSU coach Les Miles can see that as well: "He's a guy who understands their offense. He knows all the blocking schemes and all the angles."
Some do. Some don't, read tattoos on his hands just above the knuckles.As in, some put in the extra effort to be the best, and some don't.
A guided tour of his arms reads like his autobiography.
"On this side, everything is good," he says, starting from his right shoulder. There's a tattoo representing God's hands, a nod to his big brother and to his father and the day he died. There's the sun representing all the good days he had with his dad. Beneath those rays are clouds and rain. "It all ends in heaven," he says, now near his wrist, pointing to the angels.
Then there's his left arm. "There's Jesus' hands on the cross, and that's about the pain we all go through," he says. There's his father's favorite quotes. The phrase "self made." A spider web. "Spiders create their own path. I make my own decisions, don't blame anyone," he says. There's a tribute to his mom and dad, a football. On it goes, not a patch of skin unadorned.
Meyer and Hernandez joke about Some do. Some don't, debating its copyright because it's a favorite phrase for both.
"When I got here, it's the first text I ever sent (Meyer)," Hernandez says. "I said, 'Everyone else is sleeping and I'm getting better. Some do, some don't.'
"Pops used to say it all the time."