FOXBORO -- Aaron Hernandez was at the Patriots Charitable Foundation's Kickoff Gala Monday night. Just hours removed from finalizing a five-year, 37.5 million dollar contract extension, the 22-year old tight end was, happily, an emotional mess.
"It's a lifelong dream. Still kind of surreal, but taking it in over the next few days, months, years... It's just a blessing. Hopefully, I make the right decisions with it and have a good life.
"As soon as we started talking about my contract I was emotional from that day on. Honestly, it's hard for me here to stay, keeping my mind off it like I said, it's surreal. Probably when I'm done with this conversation I'll have tears in my eyes. But it's real and it's an honor."
Why is it surreal?
AH: "You always dream of it but you never really think it's going to come. When it happens, you know there's a good chance you're set for life as long as you handle it the right way. It's an honor. It seems so surreal like, 'Is it really true?' It's just a dream and knowing I can help my family -- they're the ones that I love -- it's an honor."
Did fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski's contract -- a six-year, 54 million deal -- lead you to think you might be next?
AH: "I knew it was coming, because when Gronk got it, I knew there was a good chance I was next in line. Now that it happened, it's definitely a blessing. Take it in and I'm excited to go on.
"Me and Gronk are very close. Honestly, when he got paid tears came to my eyes because knowing his life is changed forever. Gronk's a great kid he probably doesn't even realize he's set for life. Laughs He lives life, he's such a happy person and he makes everyone around him have a good time just by his presence. I was happy for him.
"Even that day, just knowing there was an opportunity for me to make a good money like him brought tears to my eyes. Now that this day is here that I've been waiting for my whole life, I've been working and going through all my struggles to get here. It's just a blessing."
What did you tell your family?
AH: "I called them and told them what the contract was and the basics about it. They were all crying. I was crying right with them. This is probably one of the best days of my life; I'll remember this day forever. I just hope I keep going, doing the right things, and making the right decisions so I can have a good life and be there to live a good life with my family."
You donated 50,000 to Robert Kraft's foundation. Why?
AH: "It's just He changed my life. Now I basically have a good chance to be set for life, and have a good life. I have a daughter on the way, and a family that I love, and it's just knowing that they're going to be okay because I was happy playing for my 250,000-400,000. Knowing that my kids and my family will be able to have a good life, go to college, it's just an honor that he did that for me, he gave me that opportunity. 50,000 to help his foundation, obviously, it's basically saying thank you and it means a lot to me."
"He changed my life. He personally He's the one who has the final decision. Him saying, 'I want you around here for the next seven years,' since it's a five-year extension, is that he wants me a part of his family. I'm a part of the Patriots family. He set me up for life. He didn't need to give me the amount he gave me. Knowing he thinks I deserve that and he trust me to make the right decisions, it means a lot. It means he trusts my character and the person I am, which means a lot. My mother that's how she raised me. I just feel a lot of respect and I owe it back to them. Not only is it 50,000 that's just the money that doesn't mean much, it's the amount given. all I can do is play my heart out for them and make the right decisions and live like a Patriot."
This deal will take you into the prime of your career. How does this deal impact you as a football player?
AH: "I couldn't be with a better franchise. I know Tom Brady's going to be around for a while. I love the coaches, I'm close to my family, the whole organization is actually an organization. A lot of places are called organizations, but are they really organized? This is a place that not only did it change my future from paying me, but it just changed me as a person. You can't come here and act reckless and do your own stuff, and I was one of the persons that I might have come here and acted the way I wanted to act, but you get changed by Bill Belichick's way, you get changed by the Patriot way. Now that I'm a Patriot I have to start living like one and making the right decisions for them."