Miami Dolphins

An emotional Mike Pouncey discusses death of ‘brother’ Aaron Hernandez

Mike Pouncey, who was steadfast in his support for former Florida Gators teammate Aaron Hernandez through both murder trials, choked up when discussing Hernandez’s jail cell suicide Thursday.

“It was tough,” said Pouncey, who attended Hernandez’s funeral and remains close with his surviving family. “Obviously, I don't condone any of the things that he was accused of, but just to have a friend I was so close with, that I felt like was my brother and I know that he felt the same way, it's tough. It's tough for anyone to have a loss in their family, but that one right there hit my and my brother really hard.”

Pouncey’s brother, Maurkice, played with Mike and Hernandez at Florida.

Hernandez, the star Patriots tight end-turned-convicted murderer, used a bedsheet to hang himself in his Shirley, Mass., prison cell on April 19. The suicide came just days after he was acquitted of double murder, but he was still serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin L. Lloyd.

Hernandez was appealing the conviction when he killed himself, stunning friends and family.

Pouncey said Hernandez was in “great spirits” during their final conversation.

The topic of that conversation?

“Just, you know, about the case that he had just won. He was excited, ready to fight the first one again. Just a lot of different stuff. Happy for him. “

Pouncey paused and grew emotional before adding: “It was just tough, man. ... We're still shocked to this day that we're even at this point.”

Pouncey, the Dolphins star center who was cleared to resume football activities Tuesday after a hip injury derailed his 2016, did light warm-ups at the beginning of practice before going to work with trainers Thursday.

Pouncey said the hip “feels real good,” and was ecstatic not to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

“The most difficult part I think was just the recovery process,” Pouncey said. “What I had going on in my hip was different than any other surgery that I had. I'll tell you one thing: God is good, because without him, I wouldn't have been able to get through this. My family was with me each and every day. They kept me positive through all of the dark days. It just feels good. Today, I just couldn't stop smiling, because I knew I was going to get back on the football field and run around with the guys and I just couldn't wait.”

Pouncey fractured the hip in a 2016 preseason game, missed the first part of the season, and then re-injured it last November. Thursday was his first practice since.

The pain was “bad most of the time” over the past year, he acknowledged. His No. 1 goal this preseason? No setbacks.

When asked if Pouncey, who has had surgery on both hips, ever wondered if his career was in jeopardy, he responded:

“Yeah. When I first got the injury and then seeing different doctors, I thought this day would never come. Just believing in myself, believing in the hard work, a lot of credit has to go to John Gress, our physical therapist. He's been with me through every surgery that I had, and this was our toughest task.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

Related stories from Miami Herald