Hernandez Heading to the NFL

Junior tight end Aaron Hernandez announced on Wednesday his intention to declare for the 2010 NFL Draft and forego his final year of eligibility.

"Aaron Hernandez was one of the very best at his position that I have ever been around," said Urban Meyer. "He has been a key part of our success over the years, but he now has the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime dream by playing in the NFL. He has all of the tools to be successful at the next level and we wish him the best of luck."

Hernandez, a first-team All-American this season, became the first tight end in Southeastern Conference history to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end. He was also selected first-team All-SEC by the league's coaches and the Associated Press and was named the Walter Camp Connecticut Player of the Year. In 2009, Hernandez led all tight ends in the nation with 68 receptions and 850 receiving yards.

"After much deliberation with my family and coaches, I am declaring myself eligible for the 2010 NFL Draft," said Hernandez. "It is really special for me to take this first step toward my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL on the fourth anniversary of my father's passing. I know he would be proud of not only me, but of my whole family, whose love and support are the only reasons I am where I am today.

"My three years at Florida provided me with the foundation I need to succeed as a player and a person. I am eternally grateful to Mr. Foley, Coach Meyer and the entire Gator coaching staff for bringing me to Florida and serving as my family away from home. They were constantly pushing me to become a better player and – more importantly – a better person. I am so grateful for their guidance and support.

"I also want to thank my teammates for their help on the field and their friendships off the field. I was fortunate to have been a part of three great Gator teams with many great players who I know I will see at the next level. Finally, I will never forget Gator Nation. You all are the reason I wanted to come to Florida and I look forward to returning to Gainesville to cheer on future Florida teams with the best fans in the country."

Hernandez started 27 games in his career and finished with 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. In Florida's 51-24 win over Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, he totaled 111 yards on nine receptions, tying a UF record for catches by a tight end in a game, and opened the scoring on a seven-yard pass from senior Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.). He also set UF records for most catches by a tight end in a season (68 in 2009) and a career (111). His 68 catches in 2009 was the most in the SEC since 1999. He had 14 games in his career with 50-or-more receiving yards, including two games over 100 yards, and nine games with five-or-more receptions.

The NFL Draft will be held April 22-24 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

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