Aaron Hernandez has at least one former teammate willing to speak fondly of him in public. Following a week in which the New England Patriots distanced themselves from the tight end, Deion Branch offered some rare supportive words, calling Hernandez "my guy" and "a great kid."
“Aaron is a great guy and a great friend of mine and a great teammate,” the former Patriots wide receiver told The Albany Herald on Saturday. “I love him to death, and it was shocking to hear his name involved in this situation. I truly hope and pray he doesn’t have any dealings with it.”
Branch's shock and hope seem at odds with actions from the Patriots since Hernandez was arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. Less than two hours after Hernandez was arrested on Monday, the Patriots released Hernandez. The 23-year-old tight end who joined the Patriots in 2010 out of the University of Florida was subsequently charged with murder and weapons counts at his arraignment. Several days later, the team announced a jersey exchange in which fans could turn in certain Hernandez jerseys to the official team store and receive another player's jersey in return.
A free agent, Branch was in Albany for his 8th annual Skills and Drills camp, according to the Herald. Aside from offering some rare verbal support for Hernandez, Branch said that he had previously visited the tight end's home in North Attleborough, Mass. The body of Lloyd was found a short distance from Hernandez's home on June 17.
CLICK HERE for more from Branch and The Herald.
Branch's words contrast those of one of the other players associated with the Patriots to publicly comment on Hernandez's case.
"I never talk about other guys," former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light told Tom Archdeacon of the Dayton Daily News on Tuesday, "but I will say I have never embraced -- never believed in -- anything Aaron Hernandez stood for."
Light did not elaborate on what exactly Hernandez did stand for but the remarks seemed a clear repudiation of his former teammate, who is currently being held without bail.
Branch would go on to tell the Herald that he hoped that Lloyd's killer was brought to justice, regardless of who it is. Aaron Hernandez's mother, Terri, said earlier this week that she believes the guilty party is not her son and that the legal process will exonerate him.
"All I can say is that he will be cleared of all these charges in the end," Hernandez's mother told the Bristol Press on Wednesday, via The AP. "Just let it play out until the end."