When he was an offensive assistant at the University of Florida under coach Urban Meyer, one of Steve Addazio’s biggest recruiting coups was landing Aaron Hernandez, a highly touted tight end out of Bristol, Conn., who appeared ticketed for the University of Connecticut.
Owing to his strong Connecticut ties and his magnetic personality, Addazio, now the Boston College head coach, managed to persuade Hernandez to come to Gainesville.
On Monday, the first-year BC coach spoke for the first time about the turmoil surrounding his former recruit, expressing his sadness over the looming legal issues confronting the Patriots tight end.
Amid speculation about his imminent arrest on obstruction of justice charges, Hernandez, 23, found himself at the epicenter of a police investigation involving the murder of a 27-year-old Dorchester man, Odin Lloyd, whose bullet-riddled body was found in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home in North Attleborough.
“Obviously, I think the world of him and I just feel bad for all that’s going on,’’ Addazio said of Hernandez during a quiet moment at a luncheon with media.
Addazio, who had taken over the head coaching job at Temple before coming to BC, said he has not recently communicated with Hernandez.
“He and I had a great relationship [at Florida],’’ Addazio said. “But just the nature of taking head jobs and doing things, I haven’t really spoke to Aaron in about 3-4 years.’’
Hernandez was 17 when Addazio recruited him to Florida, but the BC coach never recalled him as being a distraction with the Gators.
“He was a really smart kid, really good-hearted guy, fun,’’ Addazio said. “He came down to Gainesville and had a really great work ethic . . . he would practice really hard and was a student of the game. It was all good.’’
Addazio said he was unaware of any off-field issues during Hernandez’s time at Florida.
Hernandez admitted to NFL scouts he had tested positive for marijuana four times during his college career, which caused him to tumble to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Hernandez also was named in a civil suit filed June 13 by Alexander S. Bradley, who alleged Hernandez shot him in the face in February during an argument in the car ride back from a Miami strip club.
No criminal charges were brought in the case, but Bradley has filed a civil suit.
“A lot of guys at that age, especially in the environment down there, which is just rabid, rabid football news media, there’s a little bit of a rock-star mentality down there,’’ Addazio said. “We were always concerned about who was around our guys. There was a lot of opportunity for different people to try and infiltrate, so we were always concerned about that.
“But he did well in school, did well on the football field, and he was always one of those guys who had a smile on his face all the time. So that’s what I really [remember], that’s what I have.
“I was happy to see things go so well for him,’’ Addazio said, referring to the seven-year, $41 million contract extension Hernandez signed with the Patriots last August.
“But I was sad to see this latest bit of news, but who knows where that’s going to head. I don’t know.’’
It gave rise to questions about another of Addazio’s protégés at Florida, quarterback Tim Tebow, whom the Patriots signed to two-year free agent deal.
Asked if he could foresee the Patriots using Tebow as a tight end, especially given the legal issues facing Hernandez and the medical hurdles facing Rob Gronkowski, Addazio replied, “He could play whatever he wants to play. But, in my mind, honestly I still feel like he’s a quarterback, especially with [the way] a lot of these offenses are headed in the NFL right now.
“I just think he’s got great leadership, he’s got all the tools,’’ Addazio said. “To me, you want Tebow on your team.
He’s just a great person, all about the right stuff, great worker, great competitor, and just a great guy. And that’s what you what.
“So I think he’ll do great things in whatever role they want him to do.’’
Addazio said he thought Tebow was in the right environment to continue his development as an NFL-caliber quarterback under the tutelage of Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow when he was coach of the Denver Broncos.
“I think it’s going to be great for Tim and it’s going to be great for them,’’ Addazio said. “It was really smart, picking him up.
“You just want that guy on your team. He stands for everything good in football, I really do.’’
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BC wide receiver Alex Amidon, punt returner Spiffy Evans, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, and offensive lineman Ian White earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference preseason honors from Athlon Sports.
The Eagles kick off their season by hosting Villanova Aug. 31 at Alumni Stadium.
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.