Yesterday afternoon, Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Volunteers awarded a football scholarship to Daniel Hood, a 6-5, 255 lb defensive lineman and tight end who was Class 3A Mr. Football in Tennessee this past season. Normally, the only really newsworthy thing would be that he signed months after the National Letter of Intent Day. But in this case, it’s why he signed so late that makes this an interesting story.
As the KNOXVILLE NEWS says, Hood was a top recruit who fell off the radar screen of most programs when his role in the sexual assault of his 14-year-old cousin in 2003 came to light. Hood was 13 at the time, and was convicted as a juvenile for his part in the attack, which included his female cousin having more than 70 percent of her body wrapped in duct tape. The record from his appeal has all the graphic details, including the use of a plunger wrapped in Saran Wrap as a sexual object.
But while it might be easy to condemn Kiffin and the Volunteers for signing Hood, there are some definite mitigating circumstances. After leaving a treatment program and a group home, Hood was accepted by Knoxville Catholic High in Knoxville for a second chance. And by all accounts he’s been a model student, getting a 3.8 GPA and a 27 on his ACT, with school dean of students Stan Branson saying he’s been worth the risk.
“He’s one of the most looked-up-to young men at our school,” Branson said. “I don’t know of anyone that would say a harsh word against him at Knoxville Catholic. To me, he’s just an ideal young man. … I can’t say anything will ever happen. But I sincerely in my heart feel that he will live an exemplary life.”
And one of the letters of recommendation sent to Tennessee urging them to accept Hood and give him a chance came from his victim, which is a pretty powerful statement. (Keep in mind that Hood was tried as accompliace; the main perpatraitor was his then-17-year-old friend Robert Sanico, who was tried and convicted as an adult and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.)
Much about how you feel about this situation depends on if you believe Hood feels remorse for his actions. Court records from his trial state that at the time, he “rationalizes the offense with little guilt or remorse.” Today, Hood says he realizes just how awful his actions were:
“I had a good friend tell me I should go as far west as possible,” Hood said. “But I don’t think that it’s a situation that I should try to avoid. It was heinous. It was awful. Any bad thing you could say about it would probably fit it.
“But I think it’s not trying to put it in a corner and forget it ever happened. I think you have to take it and learn from it and grow from it. … I’ve got a debt to (the victim) that I can never repay, just trying to throw it away like it never happened would be the worst thing I could do for her.”
These are the kind of decisions that make me glad I’m not a big-time football coach or school administrator. If Hood’s fate at Tennessee was in your hands, would you tell him “thanks but no thanks”, or give him a chance?