Kingsport native Daniel Hood is the University of Tennessee's latest football signee.
However, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end and defensive lineman has a tarnished past -- and new head coach Lane Kiffin is drawing criticism for bringing him into the Vols' fold.
Hood, who played high school football at Knoxville Catholic High School, was at the center of a Sullivan County rape trial more than five years ago. He and another teen, Robert Sanico, were charged by police in August 2003.
An investigation began after a cousin of Hoods' went to a hospital emergency room. She reported she had been bound by duct tape and raped by Hood, 14 at the time, and one of his friends.
In April of 2004, Hood was tried and convicted of kidnapping and aggravated rape in juvenile court. He appealed his conviction, and the case was heard in criminal court later that year.
In court testimony from Dec. 14, 2004, the victim tearfully relayed how Hood and his friend raped her with a plunger handle while she was bound.
Prior to that night, the teen said she and Hood "were very close. He was like a brother to me."
Following the testimony, Hood was again convicted of rape, and received a harsher sentence than previously imposed in juvenile court. The judge committed him to the Department of Children's Services until he was 19.
That time has passed and Hood is the Vols' latest signee -- on scholarship.
Considering the Vols' football program is trying to forge a new identity -- not only on the field, but off it -- the decision is being lambasted.
From opinion pages of newspapers to Internet blogs and message boards, Hood's signing is being viewed by many as "more of the same" in Big Orange Country; where a slew of players had runs-ins with the law under former coach Phillip Fulmer.
Hood's father, Allyn Hood, who runs A Hood Bonding on Clay Street, says the family expected the negative backlash, and that his son is prepared to show he is rehabilitated.
He says Daniel has been a model student at Catholic High School in Knoxville, both on the field and in the classroom. He's also has reportedly rebuilt his relationship with the victim, as Daniel's father says she has written letters in support of her cousin.
"He's very appreciative for (the opportunity)," Allyn said. "He's had a bad incident in his life, but that's been over five and a half years ago. He had 27 Division I offers; a lot of schools out West. He told everyone about (his past conviction) up front. The teams out West tried to use it to their advantage, and say, 'Hey you need to come out here and get away from all of that.'"
Simultaneously Hood, who grew up in Kingsport and rooting for the Vols, was also being recruited by Fulmer. But once word of Hood's criminal past hit the university, Fulmer ceased pursuing the prospect.
According to Allyn Hood, Kiffin began recruiting his son in December.
“We spent a lot of time researching the issue and talking to a lot of people who are well-respected in the community," Kiffin said of Hood in a statement released to the press. "Everyone spoke very highly of Daniel. He’s a very bright young man who wants to move past this incident and be a good representative for the team, the university and the community.”
Men’s athletic director Mike Hamilton said: “Daniel made a terrible mistake a number of years ago and was involved in a very bad thing. He’s very remorseful and has worked hard to turn his life around. Catholic High gave him a second chance, and he lived up to expectations. We feel like he has earned the chance to continue that.”
Daniel met with reporters on Tuesday, and according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, didn't minimize his role in what he called a "heinous" crime. Allyn said that from what he's seen on the Internet, many dissenters are under the impression the rape was recently committed.
"They don't comprehend this happened five and half years ago," said Daniel's father. "If (kids) make a mistake, (the system) is set up to rehabilitate them, not punish them. There's a lot of difference between the juvenile and adult system."
Allyn said Kiffin wants Daniel to compete at the tight end position this coming season, and that, ""He will end up being an excellent Tennessee player and student."
"Anyone who is successful, especially if they've had something (negative) in their life, are able to turn it around and grow from that," Allyn said of his son.
"There's a few dissenters out there, they want to see people fail. They dont' want to see people do good. But he's paid his dues, he's done everything he's been asked to do."
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