Aaron Hernandez went from talented Patriots tight end with a bright future. to a life sentence in prison. On Wdnesday morning, the saga came to a shocking end as the 27-year-old wa found hanged in his cell. How did it come to this? Let's look back and track the rise and fall of his career.
After growing up in Connecticut and enjoying a prolific high-school career, the tight end arrived in Gainesville shortly after his 17th birthday. He did see the field as a true freshman, catching nine passes, including a pair of touchdowns.
Hitting the big time
Aaron Hernandez and the Gators went through a renaissance in his sophomore season as he made 11 starts. He was a solid contributor as Florida beat Alabama for the SEC championship. He followed that up by leading the team in receptions during the Gators' win over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.
Higher and higher
Hernandez's junior season was full of personal highlights. He caught 68 passes for 850 yards and 5 TDs. For his effort, he won the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end and was an All-American. After the Gators fell short in the SEC title game, he decided to skip his senior season and enter the 2010 NFL Draft.
Rumors began swirling during the draft process that Hernandez had a substance abuse. Reports came out that he had failed several drug tests while at Florida. Hernandez, to his credit, admitted to using marijuana in college but said the reports of multiple failed tests were erroneous. He claimed to have failed just one. As a result, his draft stock fell and the Patriots got a bargain, taking Hernandez in the fourth round of the draft.
Best foot forward
Hernandez, a 20-year-old NFL rookie, became the youngest player in 50 years to have 100-yards receiving in a game when he torched the Jets for 101 in Week 2. He finished the season with 45 catches and 6 TDs.
The 2011 season was a landmark one for Hernandez as he combined with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to make history as a duo. Hernandez and Gronk combined for 169 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 TDs, setting records for all three categories by tight ends on the same team. Both were among the top five in the league at their positions and became the first tight ends in history to have 5 touchdown catches in consecutive seasons.
Thanks to an impressive 2011 campaign, Hernandez and the Patriots found themselves in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. Although New England fell short, it was career highlight for Hernandez to be seen on a national stage.
Hernandez's 2012 campaign was marred by injuries as he went down with a high ankle sprain in Week 2. He ended up missing several weeks, but did end up returning to the lineup. The Patriots made it back to the AFC Championship Game, but ultimately fell short against the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.
News broke in the middle of June, 2013 that Hernandez was being investigated in connection with the homicide of an acquiantance. His home in North Attleboro, Mass. was searched by police several times. Reports spread that Hernandez destroyed his home security system, handed over his cell phone to investigators in pieces and paid to have his home cleaned on the same day the body of the acquiantance, Odin Lloyd, was discovered.
Hernandez was arrested and led out of his home in handcuffs, shortly before 9 a.m. on June 26, 2013. He was arraigned in court on the same day and charged with murder and five other crimes. The Patriots took swift action and cut him shortly after the arrest and released a statement: "A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do."
Found guilty of murder
On April 15, 2015, Hernandez was found guilty of murder in the first degree in the death of Odin Lloyd. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
- The Boston GlobeBoston Globe via Getty Images
Acquitted in double-murder trial
While in prison, Hernandez was charged in a 2012 shooting that left two men dead in Boston's South End. On April 14, 2017, Hernandez was acquitted of almost all charges in the incident, though he was found guilty for illegal possession of a handgun.
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At approximately 3:05 a.m. on April 19, 2017, Aaron Hernandez was found hanged in his cell at the Massachusetts Correctional Facility in Shirley. He was pronounced dead just over an hour later at a nearby hospital.