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Vols think Hood worth the gamble

5/6/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

There's no sugarcoating it.

Tennessee's taking a huge chance by signing Daniel Hood, who as a 13-year-old kid was part of a despicable crime. He watched as an older friend of his raped Hood's 14-year-old cousin in Hood's bedroom. She testified that they both took part in tying her up with duct tape.

The graphic details of the rape make you sick when you read the 21-page court document from Hood's appeal of the case. He was tried as a juvenile and found to be delinquent on the basis that he had committed the adult offenses of kidnapping and aggravated rape.

Six years later, he's now a member of Tennessee's football team, signing with the Vols on Tuesday.

I had a chance to meet with Hood on Tuesday night and hit him with some tough questions. He didn't dodge any of them and repeated over and over again how blessed he was that so many people had gone to bat for him, including the rape victim.

Her letter on Hood's behalf was one of the key pieces of information for Tennessee officials as they debated whether or not to take Hood.

Extremely intelligent. Hood understands the microscope he will be under at Tennessee. He also understands how somebody could read that report and cry out, "How could anybody give a person involved in such a heinous crime a free ride to go to school and play football?"

His only request is that people give him an opportunity to prove who he's become and not who he was as a scared 13-year-old who froze six years ago.

Colleges wrestle with these decisions all the time. And let's be honest here. They don't take chances on marginal players who are undersized or deficient in some other area.

It just so happens that Hood projects to play a position that Tennessee is frighteningly thin at -- offensive tackle.

Some fans have suggested that Hood should have been required to walk on this first year and prove that he's worthy of a scholarship. The outpouring of people who've taught and coached him at Catholic High School in Knoxville said he's already proven that with his exemplary record there the last three years.

Still, this is a gamble by the Vols, and they had better be willing to suffer the consequences. They insist they are.

It's not the first time Tennessee has taken a chance on a player who's been in trouble prior to signing a scholarship. The Vols took Jason Respert under the previous coaching staff after Respert got into some trouble with a female on a recruiting trip to Florida.

Respert repaid the Vols by being a solid citizen, a solid player, and a leader on the team. He was never in trouble again.

Sometimes, these second chances don't work out as well.

Ole Miss signed defensive back Jamar Hornsby after Hornsby had been kicked off Florida's team for the fraudulent use of a dead Florida student's credit card. She just happened to be the girlfriend of Florida cornerback Joe Haden.

Tennessee also recruited Hornsby, who attended junior college last year. But not long after signing with Ole Miss, Hornsby was in trouble with the law again. He was arrested and charged with hitting somebody with brass knuckles in a fight at a McDonald's drive-thru. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is waiting on the legal process to run its course before making a decision on Hornsby.

Georgia decided recently not to take a chance on Dexter Moody, a highly rated linebacker from Twin City, Ga. Moody signed with the Bulldogs, but was released from his scholarship after threatening a teacher at his high school.

Ironically, the Vols began to show interest in Moody following his release from Georgia and had him on campus for a visit. But the latest word from Tennessee officials is that they have elected not to offer Moody a scholarship.

After all, there will be enough scrutiny with Hood, who's anything but naïve about the situation.

"I won't even be able to jaywalk, and that's the way it should be," Hood said.