Tevin Hood isn’t like most NCAA Division I athletes.
The 6-foot, 302-pound defensive tackle was accepted into prestigious academic institutions like Yale, Princeton and Columbia. He enjoys the intricacies of literature and the thought-provoking workings of human psychology. He’s also inspired by Malcolm X, Sun Tzu and Julius Caesar.
Hood graduated Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz., with a 4.52 grade point average, ranking fourth among 734 graduating seniors. He was one of five players to take home the National Football Foundation National High School Scholar-Athlete Award in 2010.
In a nutshell, Hood understands there’s more to life than football, a value that comes from his mother, a 1991 Duke graduate.
“She instilled a good work ethic in me. This can all end one day. It does for a lot of people,” Hood said. “You can’t really bank your entire life on this. I always take care of the business in the classroom and make sure I handle that. Even if you do play as many years as Brett Favre, at the end you still have to retire and do something.”
While Hood’s pursuit of academics has helped him gain knowledge, notoriety and the potential for a bright future beyond football, it set him back in his pursuit of the coveted NFL dream.
Although undersized — Hood said he was 5-foot-8 for most of high school — he turned in 19 sacks as a senior on a state championship team and was named the state’s top defensive player.
“Every day I’ve just got to stick it to them because all these dudes are taller and they think ‘Oh, we’re going to run him over,’ and I’m like ‘No, I can’t let you do that,’” Hood said.
His size kept big-time schools from calling, but Hood still received offers from New Mexico State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Southern Illinois out of high school.
But Hood’s mother wanted him to attend a heralded academic university to put his smarts to good use, leading him to her Alma mater.
While the Chandler product was headed to Duke University for the academic prowess, he was driven to continue his football career as well. He sent a highlight tape to Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils agreed to make Hood an offer as a preferred walk-on, meaning if he proved himself as a freshman he would earn a scholarship as a sophomore.
Hood more than showed his worth. He was the only true freshman defensive lineman to play a game. In fact, he played four and collected four tackles and 0.5 tackles for a loss. He even lined up against then-top-ranked Alabama and Julio Jones and Mark Ingram.
Yet, when the season came to an end and Hood sat down with Cutcliffe, they went back on their word to offer him a scholarship.
“That was a nice experience but the end of the season came and they were like ‘You misunderstood us, that’s not what we meant,’” Hood said. “So I couldn’t pay to stay there so I had to leave.”
After what Hood described as “dishonesty on behalf of the coaches,” he went back to Chandler for a semester and ultimately enrolled in the University of San Diego, a non-scholarship school.
“It was a last-ditch effort to go to a highly academic institution,” Hood explained.
Hood played in eight games for USD while registering 11 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss. But despite some success Hood “realized I wanted to pursue the dream of football.”
Due to his success as an Arizona high school star, Hood had a relationship with the Mike Stoops regime and was going to come to Arizona during that era, but “it was a bad timing thing,” Hood said.
When Stoops and company got the boot, Hood lost one of his potential suitors. But all of that changed after new head coach Rich Rodriguez added former Scottsdale Chaparral High School coach Charlie Ragle to the staff. Hood and Ragle knew each other when Hood played at Hamilton, so the stocky defensive tackle reached out to the former high school coach for help.
Ragle talked to Rodriguez and his staff and they ultimately got Hood enrolled a week after spring classes began. Hood sat down with Rodriguez, who said he didn’t watch any of Hood’s tape before offering him a walk-on spot, and the new head coach liked what he heard.
“He looked like he was hungry. I had several conversations with him,” Rodriguez said. “Some of our guys knew about him from before and thought this guy was a good player in high school and he’s going to pay his own way. All we said was we’ll give him a shot.”
In his first spring as a Wildcat, Hood made the most of it. Despite his size, lack of major division I experience and a knee surgery he underwent last September, Hood turned heads.
“I really like Tevin. I think he’s been — I don’t want to say a surprise — but a guy who’s really stood out as a newcomer,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a strong, powerful guy. He’s not real tall but he’s got foot quickness, he gets off blocks well and we’re really happy he’s part of the program.”
The feeling is mutual.
Hood’s been on a roller coaster ride since leaving for Duke after graduating from Hamilton. His Facebook profile lists his college as “too many to list.” But after getting overlooked out of high school and going the academic path, Hood finally has the chance to prove his skills at a big-time program.
“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play for a team like this,” Hood said. “To go from Duke to San Diego and now be here, I’m not at all where I want to be performance wise but I’m trying to get there. Just every day it’s a blessing to be able to compete.”
Theoretically Hood would have to sit out a year due to transfer rules, but he petitioned to play next year due to financial constraints. He’s set to hear back in the “next few weeks” and he and his teammates have their fingers crossed.
“He’s really good, he’s got a low center of gravity and he’s very physical,” offensive guard Trace Biskinsaid. “I’m not sure if he’s able to play this year but hopefully he is. We could definitely use him on the d-line.”
While Hood got his smarts and work ethic from his mother, his football skills come from his dad’s side. His father, Eric Swann, was the sixth overall draft pick in the 1991 NFL Draft to the Arizona Cardinals. The 6-foot-5, 317-pound defensive tackle played 10 seasons in the NFL, turning in two Pro Bowl seasons and racking up 46.5 career sacks.
“My dad gave me some good genetics so I’m strong in that aspect,” Hood said. “I don’t take anything from anybody.”
Although Hood’s dad provided him with football genes, he didn’t give him much else. Swann and Hood’s mother divorced when their son was an infant and Hood hasn’t seen his father in seven years.
Hood has tried to contact Swann through his high school offensive line coach Mark Tucker, who is friends with Swann and played with him in the NFL, but to no avail.
“Everyone has their own reasons,” Hood said, “so I can’t really get mad at him.”
Swann didn’t only pass those genes on to his oldest son, as Hood’s younger brother and fellow defensive tackle Jaxon Hood also received the physical skills.
But according to Tevin Hood, Jaxon Hood is taking those talents to the wrong school. On Feb. 1 Jaxon Hood, a three-star recruit out of Hamilton, committed to ASU after turning down an offer from Rodriguez and the Wildcats.
“I think he’s scared to come here because he wasn’t going to play when I was here,” Tevin Hood joked. “I won’t hate on his decision but they’re going to lose. Now we’re just rivals I guess.”
Although he’s four or five inches shorter and a few pounds heavier, Hood models his game after Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.
“Sometimes he looks like he’s not in the play, but he always comes back,” Hood said of Dockett. “His play is kind of deceptive. It’s not always power. I try to model after that.”
Hood and Dockett met and exchanged numbers when Hood was a senior in high school and the Cardinals and Rams played. Hood picked up some tips from Dockett, including his hairstyle. Hood sports the Dockett-esque dreadlocks.
“I’m trying my best,” Hood said with a laugh.