RECRUITING: Hernandez Solid As A Rock For UF

Aaron Hernandez was already sold on the University of Florida as the place he wants to spend the next four years playing college football. The tough sell was his mother but even that proved to be easier than anything he could have possibly imagined prior to his trip to Gainesville this past weekend.

(See Aaron Hernandez profile)

Hernandez committed to the Gators back in April when he visited the Florida campus for the first time the weekend of the Orange and Blue Game. He fell completely in love with Gainesville, the UF campus and the Florida coaching staff. By committing to the Gators, he had to de-commit the University of Connecticut where his brother D.J. is set to be the starting quarterback this year. So it was important for his mother to get down to Florida and see for herself all the reasons that he wanted to be a Gator.

"I knew this was where I wanted to be but she hadn't ever seen the campus, met the coaches or anything like that," said Hernandez, a five-star rated (by tight end from Bristol, Connecticut in a Monday night telephone interview with Gator Country. "I really thought that once she got down here she'd like it a lot and she did.

"She got to check out the academics and that's what was most important for her. Then she saw where I'm going to live, saw all the equipment in the weight room where I'll work out and she met the coaches and a lot of guys who'll be my teammates. She just loves Coach (Urban) Meyer and Coach (Steve) Addazio. They spent a lot of time with her and she was really impressed that they're the kind of coaches she wants for me."

During the trip to Gainesville Aaron got to hang around with quarterback Tim Tebow and tight end Tate Casey. His mom, Terri Hernandez, spent that time with Shelley Meyer and Kathleen Addazio, which only solidified in her mind that Aaron made a wise choice when he switched his commitment from UConn to Florida.

"When we left Gainesville, I could tell that she was really comfortable with everything," said Aaron, who set state and national pass receiving records last year in Connecticut. As a junior, Hernandez caught 67 passes for 1,807 yards and 24 touchdowns for Bristol Central. He set state records for receiving yards in one season, touchdown pass receptions and most receiving yards in a single game (376). He set a national record for receiving yards per game (180.7).

Yet for all the big numbers on offense, he was the defensive player of the year in Connecticut. From his defensive end position he had 72 tackles, 43 for loss, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four blocked kicks.

"They gave offensive player of the year to a senior and that was cool," said Hernandez, a 6-4, 240-pound specimen who can bench press 355 pounds. "I like playing defense, too. The awards are nice but winning is what really counts."

Once football season was over, he quickly adjusted to the basketball court where he made all-state, averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds per game.

"I've actually got a lot of schools interested in me for basketball," he said, "but football is my game. Basketball is fun but football is what I want to do."

Maybe it's because he's so good at both sports that he tries to pattern his game after another former two-sport star, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. Gates is a 6-4, 260-pounder that has wide receiver's speed and agility to go with tremendous leaping ability. Gates didn't play college football. At Kent State he was an All-Mid-America Conference basketball player.

"He's got a big body and he's not afraid to bruise people up," said Hernandez. "Yet he's fast enough to get deep on people. That's the kind of player I want to be."

Gates is known for his tremendous speed but Hernandez is no slouch when it comes to turning on the jet either. He participated in four events in track this past spring and he put up excellent numbers.

"I ran 11-flat in the 100 and I was the anchor on the 4x100 relay," he said. He also ran 23.0 in the 200 meters and was in the high 40s in the shot put.

He plays three sports because he just can't stand the idea of sitting around and doing nothing at all.

"I'm competitive," he said. "I love pressure situations and I love competing at anything."

The urge to compete got the best of him during his most recent trip to Gainesville. He went with Tebow to the West End Golf Course where they played 18 holes at night on the lighted course.

"I'd never played night golf," he said. "Timmy and I really went at it. He's better than I am but we had a lot of fun. It's not such a long course so we were trying to drive the greens even on the par fours."

Hernandez will graduate high school in December so he can participate in Florida's spring practice. He and Tebow have become such good friends that they have decided they will be rooming together.

"I'm really competitive and so is he," said Hernandez. "We're a good fit in that respect. We both like to get in the weight room and go after it and we're both like always ready to do the drills and stuff that make you better football players. We both like to watch game film and get prepared to play. There's a lot of things that make us pretty much alike so I think it's going to be fun being his roommate."

His goal for the upcoming high school season is to win a state championship. He's more motivated than ever before to bring home the big trophy for his school because Tebow got a state championship last fall, leading Nease to the Florida Class 4A title.

"I saw Timmy's state championship ring and I thought I've got to get one of those myself," he said. "So I'll be doing whatever I need to do for our team --- offense and defense --- to help us win."

He could stand out at the next level on either side of the ball but it's at tight end that he feels most comfortable.

"Every time I get the ball in my hands, all I can think about is getting into the end zone," he said. "I'll try to outrun the other guy or if I need to I'll run him over. Just whatever I need to do to get in the end zone, that's what I'm going to do."

The combination of size and speed to go with his very aggressive attitude make him a frightening sight for undersized safeties. He admits he's often tempted to lower his shoulder and run over a defender that tries to take him on one-on-one in the secondary.

"Running over people is fun," he said. "I'll do that if that's what I need to do but what I want to do is score so the first thing I have to think about is running faster and getting into the end zone. But, if someone gets in my way, I don't mind handing out a little punishment. Stuff like that makes football more fun."

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