TEMPE, Ariz. — As Arizona State defensive tackle Jaxon Hood answered questions Sunday about the Sun Devils pending bowl bid, his massive left bicep displayed an equally large tattoo. Scrawled above a favorite Bible verse are the words “Dark Horse.” Above that is a bucking horse with fierce eyes.
“That’s me, the dark horse,” Hood explained. “People said I couldn’t do it, but here I am.”
Characterized a year ago as a marginal Division I prospect because of his height (6-feet-0), Hood quickly disproved his doubters by starting all 12 games of his freshman season and earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
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“I always like proving people wrong,” Hood said. “I don’t like people saying what I can and can’t do. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and not let the thoughts or opinions of people who don’t even know me or how I work control me. I wasn’t going to let them be right about anything.”
At 6-foot, Hood isn’t the prototype height for the defensive line. Then again, his neighbor on the line, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, only has an inch on him, and defensive end Davon Coleman just two.
Still, recruiters downgraded Hood due to his height and questions about his conditioning. Hood didn’t often go looking for what was being said, but word always seemed to find its way to him.
“I kind of just laughed at those people,” Hood said. “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”
The physical questions were apparently enough to trump Hood’s 100 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior at Chandler Hamilton High. He had fewer than 10 offers and a soft commitment to Boston College when Hamilton lost in the state championship game.
As much as it frustrated Hood to be underestimated, it also made him work even harder.
“I thought about that every day I went to go work,” Hood said. “I owe the people that said that stuff a lot of credit.”
Hood always wanted to be a Sun Devil, but former coach Dennis Erickson didn’t recruit him. Neither did University of Arizona under Mike Stoops. But both ended up being fired, and their replacements soon came callin.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez extended an offer to Hood shortly after he shined in the Semper Fidelis Bowl high school all-star game in Phoenix. Arizona State’s Todd Graham invited Hood to campus shortly after being hired.
Hood didn’t commit to ASU until national signing day, and again he had a reason to work even harder. During the second half of his senior year at Hamilton, Hood was up daily at 4 a.m. to lift weights. He also worked with a personal trainer to get in peak condition for the start of summer workouts.
His roommate, freshman running back D.J. Foster saw it all first hand: Hood pushing it in the weight room, running every day, doing all he could to shut the skeptics up.
“I know he had a chip on his shoulder,” Foster said. “He just had something to prove. When somebody’s telling you you can’t do something because of your size, that’s just hard to take. So he comes out here and busts his butt, using that as motivation.
“He’s got a little anger in him, which you’ve got to have playing football.”
If there’s anger in Hood, it’s hard to tell. He’s rarely without a smile on his face, and that smile often gives away the pride Hood has in having proven he belongs. But if Hood is walking with his head a little higher, it would be hard to hold it against him.
“Being able to come in as a true freshman and accomplish what he’s accomplished is unbelievable in my opinion,” Graham said. “I’ve never had a defensive lineman nose tackle come in and be able to play every snap (and) be able to be as consistent as he was as a freshman.”
Hood credits his durability to his pre-college training regimen and to strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold. He also credits some of his success to fellow lineman like Sutton, and of course co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph, who works with the line each day.
But Hood is far from satisfied. He wants to be first team All-Pac-12. He wants to consistently shed double teams and make plays in the backfield. More than anything, he wants his team to be on top. Proving his doubters wrong was clearly not enough.
“The season’s not a success for me until we’re 12-0,” Hood said. “I’m not satisfied with my season this year, so it’s back to the grind after this bowl game and try to be (Defensive) Player of the Year next year.”