Hood part of Kiffin's first recruiting class

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee has signed a prep football star who at the age of 13 was found by a juvenile court to have helped rape a relative.

Daniel Hood, a 19-year-old defensive end/tight end at Knoxville Catholic, signed a scholarship offer on Tuesday and will join coach Lane Kiffin's first recruiting class in the fall.

"We didn't go about this lightly," Kiffin said in a 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."

Tennessee received a letter of support for Hood from the victim.

"He is becoming a very mature adult and will be a great asset to any college and to society as a whole," the letter read.

Hood told The Knoxville News Sentinel, which first reported the story, that he's tried to learn from the crime.

"I had a good friend tell me I should go as far west as possible," Hood told the newspaper. "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."

Knoxville Catholic principal Dickie Sompayrak did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

According to court records, Hood and another teenager were charged in 2003 with assaulting a 14-year-old girl. The victim's legs and wrists were tied and her eyes and mouth were covered with duct tape before she was raped at the Sullivan County home of Hood's father.

Robert Sanico, then 17, pleaded guilty in adult court to charges of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Hood's case went through juvenile court, where he was found delinquent and ordered into a rehabilitation program at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge. While in state custody, he enrolled at Knoxville Catholic High School.

As a football player there, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Hood helped the team win its first state championship and was named the 2008 Class 3A Mr. Football.

"Daniel made a terrible mistake a number of years ago and was involved in a very bad thing," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a statement. "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."