All the attention on Aaron Hernandez’s alleged murders and subsequent issues with the law can make it easy to overlook that he’s just one half of the talent the family amassed on the football field. There’s also D.J. Hernandez, a former college quarterback turned assistant football coach who is now taking over a program in northern Connecticut.
As reported by the Hartford Courant and New London Day, D.J. “Jonathan” Hernandez has been hired as the new head coach at Ledyard High, picking back up where he left off at Southington in 2010, where he spent one year as an assistant coach and one as the head coach. He later served as a graduate assistant at Miami, the quarterbacks coach at Brown and a two-year stint as the tight ends coach at Iowa.
All that preceded two years in Dallas, where Hernandez operated his own roofing business (he’s still living in Dallas at the moment), an enterprise that led to the following priceless quote offered to the Day:
“(Running his own business was) a unique experience, a challenging one … and one where I completely ruined multiple pairs of pants.”
Now Hernandez is back, thanks to a passionate interview with a Ledyard program that will allow he and his young family to return to his home state. It also puts him back under the microscope for the inescapable “sin” of being Aaron Hernandez’s brother. While both brothers were football stars at Bristol Central High and in college — Jonathan as a quarterback at UConn, Aaron as a tight end at Florida and then for the New England Patriots — the two have lived divergent paths since.
Aaron is now imprisoned after being convicted of killing Odin Lloyd, and is currently on trial for a second double homicide. It’s highly unlikely he’ll ever be released from prison again. Jonathan earned his college degree from UConn and, eventually, a masters there as well, and has invested in developing his own career, first as a coach and then as a small business owner. Now that he’s back in Connecticut with a young family to support, the former Gatorade Connecticut football player of the year feels he can put down roots at a strong Ledyard program that was looking for new leadership after the departure of longtime football coach Jim Buonocore to become the school’s athletic director and assistant principal.
“This is a great fit for my family,” Hernandez told the Day. “We’re getting everything packed right now. I’m really excited to get (to Ledyard), meet the players, parents and other students, and build on their tradition.
“I know (Ledyard) wants stability and someone who can go in and motivate and challenge these students. I’m excited about the challenge. I’m going to make sure the guys understand that they can’t achieve unless they work hard, and smart, throughout the process. I want to be a positive role model and a mentor … that’s what it’s all about.”
According to Buonocore, the school invested in a substantial amount of background work and interviews on Jonathan before proceeding, as he relayed to the Courant.
“Obviously, I had many questions. He was very truthful. There were so many things going on within his family, it was best for him that he got out of coaching. It was probably unfair to him, because he was moving up the ladder in the collegiate level. But mentally, physically, emotionally, he got away from it all.
I got a couple of texts from people I’m close with saying, well, ‘You’ve got a lot of balls.’ If that’s what the perception is, OK, maybe I do. I also know Jonathan is a leader. He’s an educator. He’s a tremendous football coach. I think we’re privileged to get him in this community.
“I’m convinced this young man will have a positive impact not only on our student athletes but on our students in general. Kids are real. You can’t fool them with somebody fake. He’s lived the tough life. He has met every obstacle head on. And 99.9 percent of the time he has made the right decision. He made that one mistake (a minor controversy at Southington), and he learned from it.”