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Odin Lloyd, victim in murder probe involving Aaron Hernandez, paid his way to play football

Odin Lloyd lived on the opposite end of the football world. Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots tight end who was questioned after Lloyd's death near his home in Massachusetts, knew the bright lights and big money of the NFL. Lloyd was a semi-pro linebacker who paid for the right to tackle.

"It's a tremendous cross-section of people," says Tom Torrisi, the CEO of the 20-year-old New England Football League where Lloyd played. "Firefighters, dentists, accountants. These guys play for the love of the game and for the actual physical contact."

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Odin Lloyd played linebacker for a semi-pro team. (Boston Bandits/Facebook)

Lloyd, who was 27, joined the Boston Bandits with a group of friends from the John O'Bryant School of Math and Science in Roxbury in 2007, and together they formed the spine of the team. A former O'Bryant coach also works as an assistant for the Bandits.

"He was a very personable player, always in a good mood," says Olivier Bustin, the team's head coach. "Never had a problem with him. Liked by teammates. A very good athlete."

Bustin said he got no sense of anything amiss when he last saw Lloyd, at a scrimmage on Saturday. He said Lloyd played "great" that day, though he left his helmet behind. The last correspondence from the man they called ‘O' was about the forgotten helmet, which Lloyd had to buy himself.

On Tuesday, Bustin got a text from another coach: "Did you hear what happened to Odin?"

Lloyd was found dead in North Attleborough, a mile from the upscale neighborhood where Hernandez lives. Police came to Hernandez's house on Tuesday and left with a box, but it's not known if the NFL star was in any way involved in Lloyd's death. A report out of WBZ-TV in Boston indicated that Lloyd was dating the sister of Hernandez's girlfriend. Lloyd lived in his uncle's home in Dorchester, which is roughly 35 miles from where his body was found.

The state medical examiner has ruled Lloyd's death a homicide, according to the Associated Press.

The Bandits went ahead with their practice on Tuesday.

"Some of the guys didn't know [what happened to Lloyd]," said Bustin. "We tried to get everybody on the same page. Odin played football and that's what we're going to do. Odin wouldn't want us not to practice. So we had our regular practice."

The league is close-knit, with about 2,000 players ranging in age from 22 to 36. Some are hoping for a chance to catch on in the Arena Football League, but most play for the camaraderie and exercise. Although the Bandits are considered "semi-pro," players pay $100 or more for equipment, which is sometimes defrayed by sponsorships from local businesses. The teams play mostly on high school fields from July until September.

"Things are hunky dory, well and good, and this ruins everything," says Torrisi. "The sting is devastating. This isn't the NFL; we're not equipped for this."

The Bandits have been hit by an inordinate amount of tragedy for a tiny team, according to its website. Derrick Rucker died in an electrical fire in 2002 and left behind a young daughter. Four years later, a Bandits rookie named Jeff Ibenewenka was murdered in Hyde Park, also leaving a daughter. Lineman Jason Mitchell died in 2008, two years after retiring from the Bandits. BJ Smith died in his sleep in 2009 at age 34, leaving behind a wife and two children. Cedric Warren was killed in a car accident last year. He also had a daughter.

Lloyd's team will play its season opener next week against Brockton, and it plans to honor the late linebacker.

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