MADISON, Wis. -- Montee Ball stood on the sideline Sept. 22 at Camp Randall Stadium, his eyes cast down, his helmet taken away from him, his day finished before halftime.
The Wisconsin running back suffered a concussion on a touchdown run against UTEP, his second head injury in less than two months. Wisconsin had launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for its senior star before the season began, complete with the tagline, "This fall belongs to Ball."
Four weeks into the season, it had been anything but. Wisconsin's offense had stumbled out of the gate and Ball, a Heisman finalist in 2011, literally had nowhere to run.
Midway through the second quarter, a familiar figure wearing red approached Ball and sat down next to him on the Badgers' bench.
"He was telling me, 'This happens,'" Ball recalled. "'You just have to make sure you shake it off and come back and practice harder, and do a good job the next game.'
"He's always been there for me."
It was on the same bench in 2009 when Ball first met the man he now calls his "low-key mentor."
"Someone was patting me on the shoulder," Ball said. "I turn around and it was Ron Dayne. I was shocked."
Ball has had a strong support system during his college career. In addition to coaches, teammates and friends, his parents, Montee Sr. and Melissa, left their home in Wentzville, Mo., and moved to Sun Prairie, Wis., to be close to their son.
Yet none of them knows what it's like to be a Wisconsin superstar running back living both in the national spotlight and in the Madison fishbowl. Only one person in Ball's life can truly relate, and that's Dayne, who starred at Wisconsin from 1996-99.
Check out the rest of my story on Ball, Dayne and their connection.