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KNOXVILLE - Knoxville Catholic High School gambled on Daniel Hood and won big.

The University of Tennessee hopes for a similar fate.

Hood, a Mr. Football award winner who led the undefeated Irish to a Class AAA state championship, signed scholarship papers with the Volunteers on Tuesday - three months after National Signing Day.

There were serious reasons for the delay.

Six years ago, Hood, then 13, was tried as a juvenile and found delinquent by a Sullivan County Criminal Court jury for committing "the adult offenses of kidnapping and aggravated rape" on a female relative who was 14, according to paperwork from a 2006 appeal.

The incident occurred on Aug. 11, 2003. A third person, then-17-year-old Robert Sanico, was tried and convicted as an adult in the case and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Hood - who was briefly placed in custody of the Department of Children's Services - was admitted to KCHS after completing a mandatory rehabilitation program at the Mountain View Youth Development Center near Knoxville.

KCHS principal Dickie Sompayrac said he spent approximately two weeks investigating the situation before hearing enough to take "a chance ... a leap of faith" on Hood.

Sompayrac said Hood thrived, rather than simply survived that second chance. Teachers, administrators and students at KCHS have echoed similar statements the past three years.

"We'll put our reputation at stake for Daniel," Sompayrac said. "He's been a blessing to us."

UT officials said they undertook a similar, meticulous investigative process before admitting Hood and offered him a scholarship.

"It was very, very thorough," said athletic department spokesperson Tiffany Carpenter, who added that Hood's cousin - the victim - wrote UT a letter recommending his acceptance into school.

First-year head football coach Lane Kiffin and athletic director Mike Hamilton released statements on the situation but did not elaborate.

"We didn't go about this lightly," Kiffin's statement said. "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."

Added Hamilton, via prepared statement: "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."

Hood has been viewed for at least two years as one of the country's best high school prospects. Rivals.com rated him the 10th-best prospect in Tennessee and No. 35 offensive tackle in the nation.

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