As a New Englander, Aaron Hernandez's career path is quite the anomaly.
Usually, it's an overachiever from Boston College or UConn, or a guy who had to put on a clinic at the Division 1 FCS level (see: James Ihedigbo, Sean Morey). But Hernandez was a highly-touted prospect at Bristol (Conn.) Central High, a five-star recruit at tight end who first committed to UConn but then switched to Florida after taking in the spring game in Gainesville. Hernandez then enrolled at UF in January 2007, right as they were done pounding Ohio State for their first BCS National Championship, and made an immediate impact. After three stellar seasons, Hernandez is now a rookie with the Patriots, and at 20 years old one of the league's youngest players (he'll be 21 in November).
Meanwhile back home, older brother D.J. made his coaching debut Wednesday night as the head man at Southington (Conn.) High. If you ever want to know who set the ball rolling for Aaron, it's his brother D.J., a high school legend who was a two-time captain at UConn.
Yesterday, during media availability at Gillette Stadium, Hernandez sat down with ESPNBoston for a few minutes to chat about his high school playing days, the tone his brother set for him as a youngster, how he ended up at Florida, and why he's such a big Drew Bledsoe fan.
Q: Your brother made his high school coaching debut last night. When was the last time you spoke with him, and what did you say?
A: "This morning...I told him congrats, I was in a little rush. He said 'Thanks, I love you', and I said 'I love you' back, and that was the end of the conversation."
Q: How much of an influence has he been on your life?
A: "He's the reason why I am where I am today. He was always the one working hard, grinding harder than everybody else, always had that dream to be on top. I was one of the lazy kids, just wanted to have fun, but then I finally saw him get a scholarship when I was a freshman, and he ended up going to UConn. It opened my eyes up to (realizing) I've got to do something. So that's what made me start working, getting me to where I am today."
Q: You've mentioned in the past about being a big Drew Bledsoe fan growing up. What about him appealed to you?
A: "He was just a big name, he was a star, everybody knew him. When you're a kid, you just want to be known, be that popular kid, be the kid that everyone talks about, and he was definitely on top of the world -- especially around Connecticut. He was just someone I wanted to be (like)."
Q: What play did you like running the most at Bristol Central?
A: "I'd say, in high school, it's hard to stop play action. So, we always ran play action, which would get the defense to flow. I'd be on the opposite side of the field wide open, and when you're in high school and you've got open field, it's alot of fun (laughs)."
Q: What lessons did you learn from coach Doug Pina that still stick with you?
A: "Coach Pina, he was a really strict coach, he was hard on us. Going to college, coaches were hard on us there, so he got me ready for that next level."
Q: You don't often see players from New England going to Top 5 programs. How did you get exposed to a school like Florida?
A: "Really, they don't look up north much. To get recruited in Connecticut, especially when I was there, you had to put up crazy numbers, because they didn't really respect the talent you were going against. But my high school coach, Mike Bakayza, was a huge Florida Gators fan and still is. He sent my film out to them, and that's the reason they ended up getting in contact with me."
Q: What advice would you give to high school athletes who want to follow your career path?
A: "As long as you go to sleep every day feeling that you did everything you could that day, and you feel like you're one of the hardest workers at your position or in the country, then you should be fine. It's all about how hard you work."
Q: On draft day, when you heard your name called by the Patriots, what were your emotions?
A: "I was excited because it was close to home, but obviously disappointed because it wasn't where I wanted to be picked at. But it's just an honor to be here, and I wanted to play for the Patriots. It's a dream come true to play here. It couldn't be any better."