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Aaron Hernandez on Robert Kraft: ‘He changed my life’

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When writing about the five-year, $40 million contract extension given to New England Patriots tight end Adrian Hernandez, we briefly touched on the $50,000 donation Hernandez made to the Myra Kraft Foundation, the charity named after the late wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, "out of respect for Robert drafting him, [and] for doing his deal two years early."

Turns out, the gesture was far more emotional than we knew. Monday also marked the team's annual Charity Gala, and when Hernandez presented Kraft with the check, it got a little dusty in the room.

"One of the touching moments since I've owned the team -- knowing that this is our charitable gala tonight -- Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed, and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund," Kraft told Mike Rodak of ESPN Boston. "I said 'Aaron, you don't have to do this, you've already got your contract.' And he said, 'No, it makes me feel good and I want to do it.'

"That made me feel good because part of the thing that we learned early on is that we have a lot of young men who come into this business, and they come from humble financial homes, and part of what we try to do is make them understand is that there is a psychic income involved in giving back both your time and your financial resources, if you can do that."

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Hernandez understood the value of that "psychic income."

"He changed my life," Hernandez said of Kraft. "Now I'm able to basically have a good chance to be set for life, and have a good life. I have a daughter on the way, I have a family that I love. It's just knowing that they're going to be OK ... 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 this opportunity. The $50,000 to help his foundation, obviously, is basically like saying 'thank you' and it means a lot to me.

"He didn't need to give me the amount that he gave me, and knowing that he thinks I deserve that, he trusts 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, cause my mother, that's how she wanted to raise me. They have to trust you to give you that money. I just feel a lot of respect and I owe it back to him. Not only is it $50,000, cause that's not really, that's just the money that really doesn't mean much, with the amount given, it's more, I have a lot more to give back, and all I can do is play my heart out for them, make the right decisions, and live life as a Patriot."

Hernandez will turn 23 in November -- he's got an amazing future ahead of him in one of the league's most incendiary offenses, and quite a few years in which to enjoy catching passes from a fairly decent quarterback in Tom Brady. But more than the football stuff, Hernandez seemed to grasp a deeper meaning behind the contract extension, which isn't always the case. It's a testament to the culture Kraft has established since he became the team's majority owner in 1994. He had been involved in the franchise's ownership since 1985, but bought out former owner James Orthwein to keep the team from moving to St. Louis. Many thought Kraft overpaid at the time. Now, his $175 million investment seems like one of the more ridiculous bargains in sports history.

Hernandez hopes to be a similar bargain -- he's been inspired not only by Kraft's generosity, but by the spirit behind it.

"This is a place that not only did it change my future from them paying me, but it just changed me as a person," he said. "You can't come here and act reckless and do your own stuff, and [I] was one of the persons that I came here, I might've acted the way I wanted to act, but you get changed by Bill Belichick's way. You get changed by the Patriots' way.

"Now that I'm a Patriot, I have to start living like one, and making the right decisions for them."

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