UF's Hernandez declares for NFL Draft

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 5:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 5:00 p.m.

Without saying anything, Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez pretty much let everyone know he planned to leave early for the NFL when he threw the ball high into the stands after catching a touchdown pass against Florida State back in November.

He followed through with that statement toss Wednesday, announcing he was declaring for the NFL draft on the same date that his father died four years ago.

"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," Hernandez said. "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 for Mr. Foley (athletic director Jeremy Foley) and coach (Urban) 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."

Hernandez, a junior from Bristol, Conn., is projected as a probable second-round pick coming off a monster 2009 season in which he earned first-team All-America honors and won the John Mackey Award, the first SEC player to do so. He was the nation's top pass-catching tight end with 68 receptions for 850 yards.

"Aaron was one of the very best at his position that I have ever been around," Meyer said in a UF release. "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 the tools to be successful at the next level and we wish him the best."

Hernandez started 27 games in his UF career, finishing with 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. He saved one of his best games for last, catching nine passes for 111 yards in the Gators' 51-24 victory over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.

"I was fortunate to have been part of three great Gator teams with many great players who I know I will see at the next level," Hernandez said. "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's early departure will leave the Gators with two scholarship tight ends on their roster this spring - redshirt freshman Desmond Parks and incoming freshman Gerald Christian, an early enrollee.

The Gators have had two juniors declare for the NFL draft this week with cornerback Joe Haden announcing his decision on Sunday.

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