Daniel Hood signing to play football at the University of Tennessee might have been the classic local-kid-makes-good story. But there's more to it than that - a lot more.
Hood was convicted of a crime when he was 13 years old. Combine that one incident with UT's track record and you know how the story will play nationally: The Vols have changed football coaches but they haven't changed their image.
Image and perception: That's why you don't sign Catholic High School star Daniel Hood to a football scholarship. Not when you are lugging around all of UT's baggage.
The main problem I had with former coach Phillip Fulmer's program wasn't the won-lost record. It was the arrest record. There were too many off-the-field incidents and too little discipline in return.
New UT coach Lane Kiffin has been all about discipline. He has the attrition to show for it. Four players have been kicked off the team, and another was disciplined before he left of his own volition.
You can't say, "There's a new sheriff in town," because that implies the existence of a previous sheriff. But by the end of spring practice, you could conclude this wasn't business as usual.
So much has changed about UT football in the last few months, and virtually all of it for the better. A stagnant program is suddenly pulsating with energy. Fans are excited and optimistic.
There's a new offense, a new defense and a new outlook.
Amidst all the newness, this is no time to revert.
Hood was only 13 when the incident occurred. He assisted an older teenager in the rape of a 14-year-old girl. The 17-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in prison. As a juvenile, Hood was placed in state custody until he was 17.
He seemingly has come a long way since the incident. He was an honors student as well as a standout athlete at Catholic High. His principal, Dickie Sompayrak, and assistant principal Stan Branson swear by him.
Hood, Sompayrak, Branson and UT publicist Tiffany Carpenter met with News Sentinel reporters Tuesday afternoon. Hood answered questions candidly and calmly. He spoke of his religious conversion and his determination to live an exemplary life, but he didn't minimize his involvement in what he called a "heinous" crime.
Carpenter said UT researched Hood's case extensively. Glowing references were provided on his behalf. Carpenter said even the rape victim had written a letter in support of Hood.
So there's compelling evidence Hood will follow the straight and narrow at UT. And everyone deserves a second chance, right?
Right. But that doesn't make it right for UT. Let Hood pursue his college education and play football for a program with a less troubled past. There's too much history at UT. If Kiffin didn't understand that, then athletic director Mike Hamilton should have filled him in.
Fulmer figured that out. His staff offered Hood a scholarship, then backed off. Hood assumes that was because of the incident.
Since his first address to the Vol Nation, Kiffin has made it clear he's all about winning. So I don't believe he signed Hood as a goodwill gesture to a local kid who is trying to turn his life around. He signed him because he believes Hood can help him win football games.
But a young coach who prides himself in recruiting nationally isn't seeing the big picture here. This isn't about one student-athlete. It's about a program with an image problem.
Kiffin has changed the offense, defense and outlook. He needs to change the image, too.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.