TRACY Amini Silatolu's devotion to football is written along his left forearm.
A scar slithers from the base of his hand down his wrist, a memento from his freshman year at Tracy's West High School when he broke both bones in his forearm during an early-season scrimmage.
"It snapped in half and was facing the wrong way," said Silatolu, a guard who hopes to be drafted Thursday. "I remember looking at it and thinking, 'That doesn't look right.' "
The sight of a bone going perpendicular to its mates would have driven a more squeamish soul from the game. Silatolu said the injury only made him hungrier to return for his sophomore season.
That's what pro scouts see in the 6-foot-4, 314-pounder who played at tiny Midwestern State: Not only does he have the size, strength and quick feet teams want in an interior offensive lineman, he feels comfortable with indeed relishes the sport's brutality.
Silatolu visited 11 teams in the run-up to the draft, and last week 49ers offensive-line coach Mike Solari drove to Tracy and had him diagram plays.
Silatolu, among the hottest names entering the draft, is projected to go at the end of the first round or the beginning of the second.
Noting the 49ers' opening at right guard, NFL Network's Mike Mayock said Silatolu or Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler might be the pick.
"Both of them are tough, nasty, physical players, which fits what the 49ers do," Mayock said.
Silatolu's parents immigrated to the Bay Area from Tonga in 1985 in search of a better life. His mother, Lupe, cleaned hotel rooms. His father, Saia, worked at a gas station. Lupe said she was ecstatic to take home eight dollars an hour.
"We worked whatever job we could find, whatever was in front of us," she said. "We grabbed whatever we could get."
The couple had two boys who grew up in the Bay Area. Silatolu's younger brother, Paul, is in the Navy and currently pursuing pirates off the coast of Africa. All of them hope Amini lands with the 49ers, whose Santa Clara practice facility is an hour's drive away.
Silatolu's introduction to football wasn't pleasant. He weighed around 150 pounds in the fourth grade, which meant he couldn't play with kids his age.
Instead, he was thrown in with seventh and eighth graders, who never let him forget he was a mere grade schooler.
"I used to get killed on the field," he said.
Silatolu eventually dropped out. But it wasn't because the older boys bullied him. He simply outgrew the league.
Finding like-size opponents continues to be an issue today.
After high school, Silatolu spent two years at Stockton's San Joaquin Delta College, where he dominated the community college competition. Cal, Hawaii, San Jose State, Tennessee and especially Nevada were interested, but his grades weren't good enough for Division I schools.
In the meantime, Brian Natkin, then an offensive-line coach for Division II Midwestern State, recruited athletes in Northern California. He saw a potential gem in Silatolu and lured him to the Wichita Falls, Texas, school. Natkin said it took one practice for Silatolu to be penciled in at left tackle.
"He took our best pass rusher, a defensive end, and made him look silly," said Natkin, now the offensive-line coach at UTEP.
Last year, Midwestern State went undefeated in the regular season for the first time in school history. The offensive line gave up just nine sacks, and the Mustangs finished first the nation in total offense (531.9 yards per game) and second in rushing (323.5).
"We just liked to take it down the other team's throats," Silatolu said. "Every week, the goals started getting higher. It got to a point where if we didn't get 350 (rushing yards), it was a disappointment."
Those gaudy numbers are tempered by Midwestern State's level of competition schools such as Tarleton State, Incarnate Word and Angelo State.
Sure, Silatolu tossed aside 190-pound linebackers as if they were made of straw. But how will he fare in the NFL?
Silatolu thought he'd have a chance to address that critique in January at the Senior Bowl, where he would have faced future NFL players such as Washington's Alameda Ta'amu and Connecticut's Kendall Reyes. But a week and a half before he was scheduled to arrive, he pulled a hamstring and had to sit out the game.
Silatolu points to other offensive linemen from small schools, such as former Cowboy and 49er Larry Allen, who played at Sonoma State, and the Saints' Jahri Evans, who played at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University, as evidence that small colleges can produce Pro Bowl guards.
He also noted that one of Mike Iupati's supposed downsides in 2010 was the level of competition he faced at Idaho. The 49ers drafted Iupati 17th overall that year, and he has started every game the past two seasons at left guard.
Silatolu worked out with Iupati earlier this year. He said he enjoyed watching Iupati pull across the line of scrimmage and flatten opponents for the 49ers and that he'd love to do the same thing for a living.
"That's my fun," he said. "That's how I have fun."