By Andy Staples
May 08, 2009

Every time I read about Daniel Hood, I feel worse for Xavier Ramos.

Hood is an offensive lineman from Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic High who signed a letter of intent earlier this week to play football at Tennessee. He will be on scholarship in the fall. Five years ago, Hood was convicted of kidnapping and aggravated rape. According to court documents published by the Knoxville News-Sentinel, as a 13-year-old Hood helped a 17-year-old boy bind Hood's 14-year-old cousin to a bed with duct tape and then watched as the older boy sexually assaulted her with a household object.

Ramos, meanwhile, is a hard-hitting safety from Ventura, Calif., with a clean record who wanted nothing more than to earn a football scholarship so he could ease the burden on his mother. She works three jobs so three of her boys can attend college and eventually live an easier life than hers. Ramos, the leader of a state championship defense at St. Bonaventure High as a junior, thought he had that scholarship last summer when an Oregon coach sent him a written offer. Days after Ramos accepted, he was told there was a mix-up. The Ducks had offered too many players at his position. The offer was rescinded.

So Hood gets a big-time, BCS-level scholarship and Ramos -- who eventually signed with Cal-Poly -- does not. What's wrong with that picture?

Should Tennessee have recruited Ramos instead of Hood? Not necessarily. Maybe Ramos didn't fit the Volunteers' needs. Maybe he wasn't good enough to play in the SEC. But certainly there was another quick, 6-foot-5, 255-pound lineman who signed with a non-BCS school who played by society's rules without fail. That player should have gotten Hood's scholarship. Or maybe there was a walk-on already on Tennessee's roster who sets a perfect example on the practice field and in the classroom. That player should have gotten Hood's scholarship.

That doesn't mean Hood, now 19, should have been prevented from playing football at Tennessee. "I don't deserve a second chance," Hood told Knoxville radio host Hallerin Hilton Hillthis week. That isn't true. Though Hood made a horrible mistake, his life shouldn't have to end there. Even the victim of the attack believes that, which is why she wrote a letter on national signing day asking Tennessee to consider her cousin in spite of that fateful night. "He is becoming a very mature adult and will be a great asset to any college and to society as a whole," she wrote. "If anyone has any concerns about our relationship or Daniel's remorse about the situation, feel free to contact me."

Instead of a scholarship, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin could have offered Hood a walk-on spot and given that scholarship to someone with a record free of such a dark blemish. Asking Tennessee boosters and season-ticket holders to foot the bill for Hood's education, housing and meals isn't fair to the ones who consider the act beyond depraved. (And please, if you're about to send an e-mail arguing that everyone has something in their past that they regret, hit the delete key right now. Everyone regrets something, but most people weren't an accessory to a rape.)

Besides, it wasn't as if Tennessee's rivals were clamoring to sign Hood. After the 21-page appeals court ruling found its way onto the Internet a few months ago, Hood's offers -- of which there were many -- evaporated.

After research that included interviews with judges and attorneys, Hood passed muster with Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton and with school admissions officials. Given Kiffin's track record so far in Knoxville, the coach didn't make this decision lightly. While he has been lampooned for some of his public statements, Kiffin seems determined to run a tighter ship than predecessor Phillip Fulmer. Case in point: safety Demetrice Morley. Kiffin booted Morley, a two-year starter with a checkered past, from the team last month for what Kiffin called a failure to uphold the standards expected of Tennessee players. If Kiffin were the type of coach who always tolerated bad behavior by good players, Morley would still have a locker.

Since his arrest six years ago, Hood has done and said everything possible to redeem himself. He has fantastic grades, a high SAT score, and the people who know him best speak about him in glowing terms. But he didn't steal a pack of gum or roll through a stop sign. Even at 13, he should have known right from wrong well enough to fight or to alert his father, who, according to court documents, was in the house at the time.

But he didn't. He got scared, and he froze. Judging by his public comments, he still hasn't forgiven himself.

Considering the severity of the crime, Hood got off light. He was turned over to Tennessee's juvenile justice system. He was later admitted to Knoxville Catholic, where he was a star on the football field and in the classroom. Robert Sanico, the boy who committed the assault itself, was tried as an adult and is serving a 10-year sentence in prison. Considering that, Hood probably wouldn't have considered it too much of a burden to pay his way at Tennessee.

Hood knows he'll face a zero-tolerance policy on campus. "If I jaywalk," he told, "I will make the front page." That isn't necessarily fair, either. Hood should be treated just like any other Tennessee student.

In fact, he should be just another Tennessee student -- and not one of the 85 who enjoy the privilege of a football scholarship.

You May Like