Rock bottom is relative. Trevin Wade knows that.
But as the Arizona Wildcats cornerback dealt with a slow-to-heal injury, shattered confidence and classroom issues a year ago, he knew things couldn't get any worse.
"If you're not in the game mentally," he said, "there's nothing you can do."
Refocused and re-energized following a nightmarish 2010 season, Wade is showing what can happen when talent meets maturity.
Wade intercepted quarterback Nick Foles twice in Saturday's meet-the-team scrimmage at Arizona Stadium, capping arguably the best training camp of his college career. With the Wildcats' season opener against Northern Arizona less than two weeks away, the 5-foot-11-inch, 192-pound senior is penciled in as a starter at either cornerback or nickel back.
Wade is taking a leadership role in a talent-rich defensive backfield, and has earned some much-deserved respect from his teammates and coaches.
"Trevin's had a much better camp, much different," coach Mike Stoops said. "It's good to see him back making plays."
It wasn't long ago that Wade was viewed as one of the Wildcats' defensive stars. He started all 13 games as a sophomore in 2009, registering 71 tackles, 14 pass-deflections and a team-high five interceptions. He was a second-team All Pac-10 Conference selection and was expected, with an extra year of experience and maturity, to lead the Wildcats' defense in 2010.
It didn't happen. Wade had just one interception all season, an 85-yard return for a touchdown against Iowa in Week 3, and added just one tackle for loss and three pass breakups. Once a master of body control, he frequently slipped on the field and blew coverages.
Wade shrugged off the struggles at the time, promising simply to do better.
Privately, however, the veteran defender was dealing with a triple-team of trouble.
A deep thigh bruise cost Wade two starts in the middle of the 2010 season and affected his play for weeks after that. Wade's confidence, once the best part of his developing game, was gone.
Off the field, Wade says, he was miserable with his major, retail and consumer sciences.
None of the three issues on its own would have affected Wade, a boisterous 22-year-old, that much. Wade has long seemed to enjoy the adversity, even nicknaming himself "Two-Star" - a nod to his low recruiting ranking out of Stony Point High School in Round Rock, Texas.
All together, for some reason, the midseason problems were devastating.
"I got injured and, school-wise, education-wise, things weren't going good," he said. "I was heading down the wrong path in my major, and I wasn't on pace to graduate. That wasn't good for me.
"I probably got caught up a little bit, playing for fans and not for God. People turned their backs on me last year. That's part of the game. You just gotta keep playing."
Wade spent the offseason getting back on track. He switched his major to economics and is on pace to graduate this spring.
His thigh is healthy, and his confidence appears to finally be back.
Safety Robert Golden said Wade has "been working really hard" to finish his career on a positive note.
"Everyone's going to go through some adversity," Golden said. "I guess Trevin had his, and he's overcoming it right now. He's going to go come out and have a great season. He's going to be a lockdown corner."
After rock bottom, Wade can only go up.
"I was always one of those people in the back. I need to be a leader," he said. "That means I have to show up every day."
The Star's 2011 college football preview section.
• Season opener: Sept. 3 vs. NAU