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A Life of Dodging Trouble

Pats’ Hernandez Has Iffy History

Aaron Hernandez once said that rejecting the University of Connecticut to play football for the University of Florida was the best decision he ever made — in part because it allowed him to get away from his hometown of Bristol.

While Hernandez might have tried to flee what was a difficult life growing up, he has never been able to flee from trouble.

As news surfaced that Massachusetts police were investigating what role, if any, the New England Patriots star tight end had in the death of a Boston man, the words of his former football coach at Bristol Central High School seemed prophetic.

“Personally, I’ve always had concerns,” Coach Doug Pina said in 2010 after reports that Hernandez had fallen in the NFL draft because of positive marijuana tests while at Florida. “He’s still finding himself. With the right people around him, he’ll do very well.”

But trouble, often tied to violence, drugs or guns, has never seemed to be far away from Hernandez — starting, some say, after his father, Dennis, died unexpectedly in January 2006.

Hernandez admitted he began using drugs in 2006 after the death of his father, the Boston Globe reported in 2010. Hernandez put his father’s favorite quote — “If it is to be, it is up to me” — under his picture in the high school yearbook and later had it tattooed on his left arm.

Pina and others said the loss had a significant effect on Hernandez.

Troubles at home were not confined to Dennis Hernandez’s death at age 49. Criminal records show that Hernandez’s mother, Terri Hernandez, 54, divorced former husband Jeffrey D. Cummings in 2010 while he was incarcerated for slashing her with a knife.

Despite the challenges, Hernandez never ran afoul of the law in Bristol, and many residents interviewed by The Courant say the superstar high school player was generous with his time and respectful to members of the community.

“He’s actually a nice guy, very outgoing, very positive,” said Austin Raymond, 17, a student at Bristol Central High School who said he had run into Hernandez at school over the years.

Bristol residents looked forward to the short trip to watch the hometown hero play for UConn, where Hernandez had made an oral commitment during his senior year at Bristol Central.

But three months after his father’s death, Hernandez backed out of his pledge to play for the Huskies, where his brother, D.J., was a quarterback, to attend Florida. He committed to the Gators on the same day he made a recruiting visit, hosted by Tim Tebow, then a freshman quarterback and now a fellow Patriot. The decision “shocked” Terri Hernandez, she said at the time.

Within months of beginning his collegiate football career in Gainesville, Fla., Hernandez was one of four players interviewed by police after an early morning shooting at a night club left two men wounded. No one was ever charged in the shootings of Justin Glass and Corey Smith, and Gainesville police said Friday they would not release the police report because it is still considered an open investigation.

Hernandez played football for three years at Florida, winning a national championship before declaring one year early his intention to enter the NFL draft. The Patriots drafted Hernandez in the fourth round - well below what his talent projected and after the draft rumors spread that he had tested positive for marijuana multiple times while at Florida. Hernandez also had been suspended by Florida for one game for failing a drug test.

Concerns were also raised that Hernandez was hanging around with an entourage of unsavory friends.

“We stayed away,” one unnamed NFL team scout told CBSSports.com, “because we hated the people he hung out with and how trouble always seemed to find this guy.”

Hernandez was only 20 when he was drafted by the Patriots, but he had an immediate impact on the field. In three seasons with the Patriots, he has caught 175 passes for 1,956 yards and 18 TDs. He signed a seven-year, $41 million contract before last season.

In 2012, Hernandez and his Bristol Central High School sweetheart, Shayanna Jenkins, moved into the North Attleborough, Mass., home that has become a center of the police investigation into the slaying of 27-year-old Odin L. Lloyd, whose bullet ridden body was found in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s home.

Lloyd was the boyfriend of Jenkins’ sister, Shaneah, also a Bristol Central graduate.

There have been reports that Hernandez and Lloyd were seen drinking in at least one Boston bar the night before Lloyd was shot.

Hernandez and Shayanna Jenkins have a daughter, who was born in November 2012. At the time, Hernandez said the new contract and fatherhood had helped him grow up. But trouble still followed.

In February — a few months after his daughter’s birth — Hernandez got into a fight with a friend at a South Florida strip club, according to a recently filed civil lawsuit. When they left Tootsie’s, East Hartford resident Alexander Bradley claims in the federal suit, Hernandez shot him in the face, resulting in Bradley losing his right eye.

Bradley, who records indicate has a 2006 conviction for selling drugs, refused to tell Palm Beach County sheriffs who shot him, according to a Florida police report. So the criminal investigation was dropped. The nature of Hernandez’s relationship with Bradley is unclear.

Last month, Hernandez was involved in an incident in Providence, where, reports indicate, he was a target of potential violence from a New York Jets fans who were heckling him.

As police intervened to stop a possible confrontation involving a crowd that began following the football star, one man tossed a gun under a car, according to police reports. Police seized the gun but did not make an arrest.

Among the coaches who have counseled Hernandez through the years is UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma. Two days after winning the 2003-04 national women’s basketball championship, Auriemma began coaching the Connecticut Nike Elite AAU boys’ basketball team on which his son, Michael Auriemma, and Hernandez would play.

“Aaron an amazing kid, and he has grown into a fabulous professional athlete,” Auriemma once told The Courant . “When he signed with Patriots, I talked to him. I told him he better work hard because Coach (Bill) Belichick is a no-nonsense guy. I told him no screwing around.”