The tattoo stretches across Anthony Wilcox's chest, his identity boiled down to eight inky words lifted from a rap lyric: "Blood of a Slave, Heart of a King."

And the patience, apparently, of a saint.

The Arizona Wildcats' strong safety has crisscrossed the country, endured countless injuries and climbed his way up a crowded depth chart just to get a chance to play.

Now that the starting job is his, Wilcox is thriving. Through four games, the 24-year-old senior has registered 12 tackles and has broken up a team-high six passes. He'll be a key part of the UA defense when it hosts Oregon State on Saturday night.

Co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown said the 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound Wilcox has been "a very pleasant surprise" on a defense that's ranked No. 2 nationally.

"Anthony brings a lot to the table - he's tall, he can run, and he'll stick his nose in there," Brown said. "He does a great job with the guys in our back-half, making calls. We've been nothing but pleased with Anthony Wilcox, that's for sure."

And yet Wilcox, a transfer from Compton Community College, was mostly a forgotten man for the first two years of his UA career. Even when he was named the starter in training camp, many considered him a place-holder until highly touted freshman Marquis Flowers was ready.

Wilcox understands why he flew under the radar. Before this season, he had just one career tackle in eight games.

"If you ain't on the field," he said, "ain't much can be said about you."

Wilcox spent four years getting here. He took a year off following a stellar career at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Fla., to take care of his newborn son, Anthony Jr. Anthony Jr., now 4, lives with his mom in Tallahassee; the father and son talk daily, usually after football practice.

Wilcox's next two years were a blur of commitments and disappointments. He planned to attend Grossmont Community College in San Diego but changed his mind at the last minute and enrolled at Compton.

Wilcox verbally committed to Ole Miss after one year of junior college only to watch as the Rebels' head coach, Ed Orgeron, was fired days later. He wanted to attend South Florida but was rebuffed by his grandmother. Claudis Greer raised Wilcox - his mother and six siblings lived nearby - and didn't want him returning to his hardscrabble hometown.

"A lot of my friends had gone down that road with trouble and everything," he said. "My granny, she didn't want me to do the same thing at South Florida because it was so close to home."

Wilcox chose Arizona, in part because he thought playing time would be easy to find.

Injuries soon robbed him of whatever chance he had to contribute. Two weeks into training camp, Wilcox pulled his right hamstring. He returned in time for the start of the 2008 season only to separate his left shoulder playing special teams.

Wilcox re-aggravated both injuries over the next year, costing him most of his junior season, too.

Wilcox says he's "back to loving football again, and not just watching it." He's on pace to graduate next summer with an interdisciplinary studies degree.

His patience and persistence are paying off.

"There are times when you feel like you're done, but you've got to keep fighting," he said. "People tell you, 'It's maybe over,' but it's not."

On StarNet: Check out reporter Ryan Finley's blog to keep up with the Wildcats at

Up next

• Who: Oregon State at Arizona

• When: 4:07 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Versus