Former New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch was stunned by the charges against Aaron Hernandez this past week in the slaying of semipro football player Odin Lloyd.
"Aaron is a great guy and a great friend of mine and a great teammate," Branch told The Albany (Ga.) Herald. "I love him to death, and it was shocking to hear his name involved in this situation. I truly hope and pray he doesn't have any dealings with it."
While taking part in his annual skills and drills camp in his native Albany on Saturday, Branch expressed his concern about Hernandez, with whom he played for three seasons in New England, as well as the victim. Hernandez was released by the Patriots after he was arrested.
"That's my guy, man," he said of Hernandez. "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.
"Nobody deserves to walk, whoever the person is that did it. 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."
Branch had played with Hernandez since 2010 when he returned to the Patriots after four-plus seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Hernandez, a tight end, was a rookie that season.
With NFL training camps set to begin in a few weeks, the 33-year-old Branch is currently a free agent. He caught 16 passes for 145 yards in 10 games for the Patriots last season.