Kiffin takes a gamble

Lane Kiffin has taken a chance by signing Knoxville Catholic's Daniel Hood to a University of Tennessee football scholarship. Of course, Kiffin takes a chance every time he signs a teenager.

But this time the stakes are a lot higher.

Daniel Hood was implicated in the sexual assault of a female relative when he was 13 years old. He didn't conduct the assault but contributed to it by helping bind the victim, then watching as an older boy performed the awful deed.

Six years have passed since then, and Hood insists he is a different person. School officials at Catholic agree so emphatically that Kiffin Tuesday signed him to a college scholarship, almost three months to the day after most prospects cast their lots on National Signing Day.

"We didn't go about this lightly," Kiffin explained in a prepared statement. "We spent a lot of time researching the issue and talking to a lot of people who are well respected in the community. 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."

Hood was tried as a juvenile, found by a jury to be delinquent and placed in the custody of the Department of Children's Services. Following completion of a rehabilitation program in Dandridge, he was placed in a Knoxville group home. Eventually, he was allowed to enroll at Catholic High, where he reportedly blossomed both as a person and as a football player.

College recruiters were hot on his trail heading into his senior season. Then, as news leaked out about his role in the 2003 assault case, he dropped off the radar. Undaunted, the 6-5, 255-pound tight end/defensive end led the Irish to their first-ever state title, earning Class 3A Mr. Football recognition for his efforts.

Determined to continue his education and his football career, Hood applied to Tennessee in February and met with Kiffin. Naturally, the Vols' new head man insisted on getting all of the facts and weighing them carefully before determining a course of action.

According to published reports, the victim of the 2003 assault wrote a letter urging UT to accept Hood, who apparently matured dramatically in recent years – finding religion and posting a 3.8 grade-point average at Catholic.

After carefully weighing the evidence, UT officials decided to accept Hood's request for admission. Athletics director Mike Hamilton noted in a prepared statement that "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."

In giving Hood a chance, Kiffin is taking a big chance with his own reputation. Taking chances is nothing new for college football coaches, of course.

But this time the stakes are a lot higher.

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