Florida Gators react to the death and reported suicide of Aaron Hernandez

Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez pulls in a touchdown pass over Miami's Chavez Grant at Florida Field in 2008.
Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez pulls in a touchdown pass over Miami's Chavez Grant at Florida Field in 2008. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Ted Spiker was listening to "Mike & Mike" on his usual car ride to University of Florida's campus Wednesday morning when he heard Aaron Hernandez was dead.

“I was shocked,” Spiker said.

Hernandez, who had been facing a life sentence without parole after being convicted in the murder of Odin Lloyd, was found hanged in a Massachusetts prison Wednesday morning. He was 27.

While signs point to a suicide, Hernandez's former agent Brian Murphy tweeted “Absolutely no chance he took his own life. Chico was not a saint, but my family and I loved him and he would never take his own life.”

Spiker, a UF professor and the journalism department chair, said he hadn't been following Hernandez's case closely as of late but knew Hernandez was found non-guilty on Friday in a 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

However, he was there when things took a drastic and debatable turn on campus when the University Athletic Associated decided to remove his All-America brick from outside the stadium back in 2013, days after he was charged with killing Lloyd.

“I thought, ‘oh my gosh. This is really happening’,” Spiker said. “[At the time,] it was monumental symbolically.”

He understood that people had mixed feelings about the brick removal at the time because he hadn't actually been convicted yet.

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Some said he deserved due process while others said the outcome for the school would be bad regardless because Hernandez the negative spotlight regardless of the outcome.

“He was embroiled in pretty bad stuff no matter the outcome,” Spiker said. “That's a tough one to talk through before you know everything.”

Most also didn't know about his troubled past while he was in Gainesville while he was playing his was to All-America honors.

He was one of four former Florida football players who were questioned in connection with a September 2007 Gainesville shooting.

Hernandez, 17 at the time, fit the description of the man who fired five shots into a car and wounded both passengers. Reggie Nelson and Mike and Maurkice Pouncey were also questioned.

Earlier that year, in April 2007, Hernandez was accused of punching a bouncer at a Gainesville bar. No charges were filed in those incidents and they never surfaced until after he was charged with murder in 2013.

Meanwhile, Hernandez was still excelling on the field for the Gators under head coach Urban Meyer.

He was instrumental during Florida's national championship run in 2008 as a sophomore. He caught three passes on Florida's first scoring drive in the national championship game against Oklahoma inside Dolphin Stadium and finished with a team-high five catches for 57 yards.

In three seasons with the Gators, Hernandez caught 111 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led the nation’s tight ends with 850 receiving yards and 68 catches in 2009 and became the first UF tight to earn first-team All-America honors.

He was selected 15th overall by the New England Patriots in the 2010 NFL Draft and was named a Pro Bowl alternate during the 2011 season. His career derailed two years later when the murder charge surfaced.

“Most students now look at him as Aaron Hernandez: Patriot and convicted murderer,” Spiker said. “But if we're just talking football, he was a great part of that run of [Florida] teams.”

Hernandez's college teammates and a few current and former UF teammates took to social media to share their thoughts.

“Bro you were never perfect but none of us are!” Ahmad Black, a teammate of Hernandez's at UF from 2007-2009 wrote in a post on Instagram with a picture from the team's national championship celebration.

“I'm gonna miss u bro, you my family! Despite other allegations and whatever else u had going ill always love u bro. RIP Chico man damn my brother.”

Current UF quarterback Luke Del Rio tweeted: “Unreal tragedy with Aaron Hernandez's apparent suicide. But let's not forget the murder of Odin Lloyd in all of this. He was the real victim.”

Former UF offensive lineman Max Garcia tweeted: “Condolences to the Hernandez family, they've endured plenty these last few years.”