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Football Notes

Hernandez wraps mind around charity project

By Greg A. Bedard
April 24, 2011

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The hip is doing fine and he’ll be at full strength soon, but right now Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has more important things on his mind.

Hernandez will be hosting two events in the area on Friday to help put a spotlight on the lack of mental health professionals available to the Hispanic population in this country.

Fairly heady stuff for a football player who won’t turn 22 until November. But Hernandez didn’t hesitate when he was approached.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity since I’m Hispanic, and it’s just a great charity for me to be involved with because they’re geared toward training mental health specialists to work with the Hispanic population,’’ Hernandez said.

Hernandez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is teaming with the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) to raise money for the Dr. Cynthia Lucero Latino Mental Health Program.

“Less than 2 percent of mental health professionals in this country are trained to deliver language and culturally sensitive care to Spanish-speaking persons,’’ said Nicholas Covino, president of MSPP. “The Lucero training program is one of very few graduate schools that is working to correct this injustice.

“When professionals like Mr. Hernandez lend their celebrity to a cause like this, it raises awareness and calls attention to a significant mental health problem. MSPP is grateful to this young man for his generosity and personal commitment to improving access to mental health care for all persons.’’

Since losing his father, Dennis, to complications from hernia surgery in 2006, Hernandez has used psychology to help him get through some tough times.

It’s not every day that you hear a professional athlete, who lives in a realm in which any sign of weakness is frowned upon, admit to seeking professional help.

But despite their sometimes superhuman performances on the field, they are not invincible off it. At times, they need assistance just like everyone else.

“I’ve been through a lot in my life and I used psychologists along the way,’’ Hernandez said. “There are not enough psychologists to help kids, especially in the Hispanic community. I feel like I could be an influence in a lot of kids’ lives by being involved in this charity.’’

Hernandez will influence more than a few on Friday afternoon when he’ll speak to 120 children and their parents at the Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston, where Hispanics make up 70 percent of the student body.

Hernandez wants to convey to the children that they should seek out someone they trust when they’re sad, frightened, or angry, they should learn to love themselves, and that taking care of their bodies and minds is very important.

“There are a lot of young kids that don’t have that guardian or role model to talk to or that person that they can go to and just lay everything out,’’ Hernandez said. “Sometimes the psychologist, when you have no one around you, can be there for you and be that person you let your feelings out to, the person that you can talk to and can give you guidance in making the right decisions when you really don’t have the right people there to help you with those big decisions in life.’’

On Friday evening, Hernandez will co-host the Supporting the Lucero Legacy event in Newton with some political heavy hitters: Boston’s mayor, Thomas M. Menino, state senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and state representatives Elizabeth Malia and Jeffrey Sanchez.

Hernandez, a native of Bristol, Conn., wants to be active in the community in Massachusetts, which he now calls home.

“I want to give back to the community and help others,’’ he said. “I feel like it’s important to be a role model and I feel like I can be a role model to a lot of these kids, whether they’re Hispanic or not. But knowing that I am Hispanic and this is a huge Hispanic event, I feel like I could be a role model and be that person a lot of kids can look up to to achieve success in their life.’’

Hernandez is only in this position because of the impact he had on the field as a rookie last season, when he caught 45 passes for 563 yards and six touchdowns.

But after the season, Hernandez had surgery on his right hip.

“I’m starting to run now and I feel great,’’ he said.

He’s been rehabbing next to Gillette Stadium (Hernandez emphasized next to because of players being prohibited from working out at team facilities during the lockout) at the Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Performance Center.

Hernandez missed the final two games of the regular season because of his injury, and caught one pass for 4 yards in the playoff loss to the Jets.

“There was pain here and there but it was something I could fight through and make my way to finish the season,’’ he said. “It’s something that got taken care of and I can’t wait until next season.

“I feel like I had a decent season. I still have a lot to learn and I feel like I still have a long ways for my full potential to be shown in the NFL. But I feel like I’m happy where it’s at now and I’m looking forward to season after season.’’

Hernandez declined to get specific about the injury. A league source said it was a minor procedure to clean out the hip, which had bothered him since college.

“I was just laid up for a couple days right after surgery,’’ Hernandez said. “I’m not running full-out now because I’m still getting it right, but I’m sure when we get back to training camp I’ll be fine.’’

As for any potential lockout workouts between the receivers and quarterback Tom Brady, Hernandez said he wasn’t aware that any are planned.

With his rehab ongoing, Hernandez likely wouldn’t be able to participate. So his impact on the field is a ways off. That’s part of the reason he’s making a difference off it.

“I’m really excited to be involved with this,’’ Hernandez said of the Lucero training program.

For more information on the event, call 617-327-6777, ext. 419, or go to www.mspp.edu/gala.

FRIENDLY SUPPORT
Squarely in Gator’s corner Aaron Hernandez will be in New York this week to share in the draft experience of his former roommate at the University of Florida, guard/center Mike Pouncey.

“He’s one of my best friends and he’s like a brother to me,’’ Hernandez said. “I would love to see him up here. But whatever makes our team better, whatever we need, that’s what I want [the Patriots] to choose.’’

Hernandez shared a three-bedroom apartment with Pouncey and his twin brother Maurkice, who was drafted in the first round by the Steelers last year and became an instant starter at center.

“[Mike’s] going to be just like his brother,’’ Hernandez said. “He plays with so much enthusiasm, has so much heart, has a passion and love for the game, and that’s not in everybody. It shows in the way they play. I think he’ll have the same impact as Maurkice.’’

ETC.
There’s room for audibles When the NFL released its 2011 schedule last week, it seemed it was at least a nod toward labor peace.

Maybe not.

A closer look shows that the league has built in wiggle room should the lockout last into what would be training camps or the season.

The teams that play each other in Week 3 have the same bye week later in the season, so those games could be pushed back.

There is also the open week between after the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. And the NFL revealed that it has booked hotel rooms for two weeks in Indianapolis, meaning the Super Bowl could be pushed back to Feb. 12.

For the Patriots, that would mean the Sept. 25 game at Buffalo could be moved to Oct. 23. And the opener at Miami (Sept. 12) could be moved to the weekend after the season is scheduled to end (Jan. 1).

If the lockout caused the first four games of the season to be altered, then the non-divisional matchups with the Chargers, scheduled to be the home opener Sept. 18, and the Raiders (at Oakland Oct. 2) likely would be canceled in favor of a 14-game season, with each team getting seven home and away games.

In a 14-game scenario, the home game against Jets Oct. 9 would be the season opener for the Patriots, and the Patriots and Dolphins would meet twice in the final three weeks of the season.

“We don’t have a specific schedule that says if we start on this date, [the season is] 15 games or if we start on this date it’s 14 games,’’ NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said Friday. “The reason is we are going to do everything we can to play a full season. The two main variables are the in-season bye weeks and the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.’’

Play by the ruling It’s been more than two weeks since Judge Susan Richard Nelson took the Brady et al v. NFL case under advisement. She is expected to deliver a ruling this week.

But that won’t be the end of it.

Here are the possibilities:

Nelson might only rule on whether she has jurisdiction, and then order a hearing on the preliminary injunction to end the lockout. That’s unlikely since she’s had the case this long.

She could allow the lockout. The NFL Players Association would appeal to the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which may not rule until mid-summer.

Nelson could block the lockout and either she or the 8th Circuit stays the order pending the NFL’s appeal.

She could block the lockout and no one stays the order. The NFL would have to resume operations as soon as possible — including free agency — until the appeals court ruled.

Be alert for sleeper Could lightning strike twice for the Patriots in this draft? Quite possibly.

With Tom Brady established, the team has gone the unconventional route selecting quarterbacks. The most notable was Matt Cassel, who didn’t have a start and threw just 33 passes backing up Matt Leinart at Southern Cal, but was a seventh-round pick in 2005. He went on to lead the team to 11 victories when Brady was injured in 2008, and is now a Pro Bowler for the Chiefs.

There’s another intriguing quarterback in this draft in the Cassel mold: Mike Coughlin of Boise State. And you won’t find him in any draft books.

Coughlin, who got married before his senior season, completed 47 passes in his career (25 completions, two touchdowns, one interception) as the backup to Kellen Moore, who is expected to be in the mix for the top overall pick next year.

Coughlin, a 6-foot-5-inch, 226-pound San Diego native, wasn’t invited to the combine but he put on a show at his pro day, according to league sources. He’s sharp, has a good arm, and is a consummate teammate.

“Kellen deserves everything he’s gotten,’’ Coughlin told the Idaho Statesman before last season. “It’s up to us to do everything we can to show the coaches what we can do and get on the field somehow, whether it’s special teams or I’ve run the ball a few times. Anything like that. We’re doing whatever we can to catch the coaches’ eye.’’

Sounds like a perfect Patriot.

Doing their homework There was a lot of buzz — unnecessary and lockout-aided — about the Patriots hosting quarterbacks Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett on pre-draft visits.

There are a few obvious reasons for the Patriots to do that. For one, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger and a quarterback might be of good value at some point. There’s also the issue of knowing a player’s value when it comes to draft-day trades.

But there’s another reason a team does its due diligence on all the players, even the top ones it likely won’t entertain drafting: the future.

At some point in that player’s career, he likely will be available, whether through free agency, trade, or the waiver wire. When that happens, the first thing the team does is to go back to its pre-draft evaluation. That is the time, through interviews and medical exams, when the most complete picture of a player can be taken. Did the team like him? What didn’t it like and is it still an issue?

Then comes the game film. That’s the most important evaluation. But the first indicator comes from what the team is doing right now: due diligence.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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