Deion Branch calls Aaron Hernandez 'great friend' and 'great teammate'

Aaron Hernandez at his arraignment where he was charged with first-degree murder. (USATSI)
One day after Aaron Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, former Patriots teammate Matt Light said he "never embraced -- never believed in -- anything Aaron Hernandez stood for."

Over the weekend, another former teammate, wide receiver Deion Branch, said Hernandez is “a great guy and a great friend of mine and a great teammate," and characterized the news surrounding his arrest as "shocking."

“That’s my guy, man,” Branch said of Hernandez, according to the Albany Herald. “That’s my guy.  It really shocked me.  He was a great kid.  Overall, I hope the best that he isn’t involved with it and I hope he gets his name cleared, but most importantly I send my prayers and condolences out to the Lloyd family."

"I love (Hernandez) to death, and it was shocking to hear his name involved in this situation," Branch also said. "I truly hope and pray he doesn’t have any dealings with it.”

Hernandez was denied bail and will remain behind bars until his trial. Authorities also have two other men -- 27-year-old Carlos Ortiz and 41-year-old Ernest Wallace -- in custody for their alleged role in Lloyd's death.

“Nobody deserves to walk, whoever the person is that did it,” Branch added. “Most of all what we as Americans need to understand is that is somebody’s child that was a victim. That’s somebody’s dad, and my prayers and thoughts go out to his family and hope that they bring whoever did this to their child to justice, regardless of who it is.”

Hernandez is also under investigation for a 2012 double-killing in Boston. Authorities believe the 2012 killings and the recent death of Odin Lloyd could be related. The working theory is that Lloyd might have had information about Hernandez's role in the double-slaying.

Ten months ago, the Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year, $40 million contract extension that included $16 million in guaranteed money.

Here's what Hernandez said at the time about the organization's faith in him: "This is a place that, not only did it change my future from them paying me, but it changed me as a person," the former tight end told Comcast Sportsnet, "because you can't come [to the Patriots] and act reckless and do your own stuff. That was one of the reasons that I came here -- might've acted the way I wanted to act. But you get changed by Bill Belichick's way. And you get changed by the Patriots way. And now that I'm a Patriot, I have to start living like one and making the right decisions for them."

If Hernandez is convicted of first-degree murder, he could spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibilty of parole.

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CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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