By Gary W. Green
2:03 PM EDT, July 3, 2013
Former Florida Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez is currently being held without bail in Bristol County (Mass.) jail after pleading not guilty last week to a first-degree murder charge and five other gun-related charges in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd. Lloyd's girlfriend, Shaneah Jenkins, is the sister of Hernandez's fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins.
After growing up in Bristol, Conn., Aaron Hernandez originally committed to play football for UConn, but left the Northeast to join Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators in 2007. He and Tim Tebow helped lead the Gators to a win over the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2009 National Championship, before Hernandez bypassed his senior year to join the NFL draft.
I had the opportunity to photograph Hernandez in one-on-one portrait sessions and throughout his playing career at Florida. Most Florida football players enter the room with a certain swagger, an air of authority, an example of elitism, and Meyer’s Gators were no exception. Smoking pot, stolen credit cards and threats to girlfriends were all part of the game, but murder? Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Mike Bianchi wrote that Tim Tebow’s Godly grace helped overshadow and erase the uglier side of Gators’ criminal character. Tebow even tried to break up a bar fight between Hernandez and a bouncer in 2007 when Hernandez was a 17-year-old incoming freshman.
Hernandez helped bring glory to the Gators on the tips of his fingers through diving, one-handed catches and rain-soaked celebrations over the Seminoles. He dove to touchdowns in Death Valley, and ran circles in the Swamp. He was part of a legacy that rained confetti over Gator Nation. He now sits in a single cell in the Bristol County House of Corrections on murder charges.
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