Iowa's Hernandez carries brother-related burden

Iowa's DJ Hernandez is Aaron Hernandez's brother

  • Photos
March 29, 2014 | 4:21 am

You can’t always be your brother’s or sister’s keeper, or your son’s or daughter’s, or your mother’s or father’s.

Not when they are adults who commit crimes, or are charged with them.

The victims and their loved ones obviously deserve the most sympathy when heinous, violent crimes have been committed. But in most cases, compassion is also warranted for family members of the accused and convicted. Their lives are shattered, too, for actions they never would have condoned.

That’s what Iowa football graduate assistant coach DJ Hernandez is facing. His brother, now-former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, was arrested last Wednesday and charged with first-degree murder. He is being held without bail in the Bristol (Mass.) County House of Correction and Jail. Odin Lloyd, 27, is dead.

The brothers’ father, Dennis Hernandez, died in 2006 because of complications from hernia surgery. Their mother, Terri Hernandez, said this to USA Today in 2009:

“It was a rough process, and I didn’t know what to do for (Aaron). He would rebel. It was very, very hard, and he was very, very angry. He wasn’t the same kid, the way he spoke to me. The shock of losing his dad, there was so much anger.”

Three years before Aaron was named the Connecticut High School Football Player of the Year, quarterback DJ got the same honor at Bristol’s Central High.

DJ was a two-year captain for the University of Connecticut’s football team. Aaron verbally committed to UConn as a prep sophomore, but his reputation as a player soared, and he eventually signed with Urban Meyer’s Florida program.

DJ made the dean’s list at UConn in 2007 and 2008. He was the head football coach at Southington (Conn.) High in 2010, was the quarterbacks coach at Brown University in 2011, and was a graduate assistant who worked with receivers and special teams at the University of Miami in 2012.

“DJ comes highly recommended and will work with our tight ends,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in February.

Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz was the Patriots’ tight ends coach in 2010 and 2011, the first two of Aaron Hernandez’s three very productive seasons as a New England tight end. Kirk Ferentz may have known him DJ for several years, because he offered Aaron a scholarship to play at Iowa, and coaches often get familiar with recruits' entire families.

Last week, Kirk Ferentz was asked about DJ Hernandez. “He’s fine,” Ferentz said. “He was here working last week like everybody. He’s doing fine.”

I’ve never met DJ Hernandez. Just how close he is to his brother, I don’t know. DJ was on the sideline at the Patriots’ organized team activity in Foxborough, Mass., on June 5.

Within the last two weeks, The Gazette asked for interviews with Brian Ferentz and DJ Hernandez. Monday morning, I made a similar request to Iowa sports information director Steve Roe.

“I can say that both DJ and Brian Ferentz, who coached Aaron in NE, have declined all requests so far.” Roe replied via email.

I would have done the same thing in their positions. But the reality of this situation are that, fairly or not, media outlets will continue to want to speak with Aaron Hernandez’s brother, and with the Iowa head coach who hired Aaron Hernandez’s brother, and with the Iowa assistant coach who worked with Aaron Hernandez in New England. And maybe even with players who are mentored by Aaron Hernandez’s brother.

You can set the agenda for a lot of things if you’re Hawkeye football, but this isn’t one of them.

This story on the Hartford Courant’s website Monday didn’t help matters. Three adult males were arrested at about 3:15 a.m., on Saturday at a West Hartford diner and charged with third-degree assault, breach of peace, and third-degree criminal mischief.

According to the Courant’s story, someone shouted “Hey, Aaron Hernandez” after seeing someone in the diner the person thought looked like the accused murderer. A fight broke out. Two of the three people who were arrested told police they had been sitting with DJ Hernandez.

West Hartford Police Lt. Frank Fallon told the Courant that police “have no idea” if DJ Hernandez was actually in the diner. If he was, he had left before the police arrived. This story says Hernandez was there, with Roe confirming it.

Even with a best-case scenario that he wasn’t there, the story still illustrates what life can be like for the brother of a famous person charged with murder.

It makes for a very delicate situation, even for something as comparatively trivial as Hawkeye football. But practicalities are practicalities. Iowa will seemingly rely on tight ends a lot this fall. They’ll need focused coaches to guide them.

On a much more important level, of course, Odin Lloyd’s family and so many other people including DJ Hernandez are carrying numbingly heavy burdens because someone used a gun to kill. 

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Is there other feedback and/or ideas you want to share with us? Tell us here.