Heading to his favorite local eatery, Quaker Steak, to hang out with his Wisconsin teammates takes Montee Ball a little longer these days.
Instead of the short, direct path from his apartment, Ball opts for a longer walk that circumvents the site of an August attack of which he was the victim.
"It's hard not to think about," he said. "I tend to take a different route if I can."
Ball knows all about detours now.
The Wisconsin running back overcame the assault, a molasses-slow start and a five-loss season only to wind up right where he had hoped.
"It really means a lot to us to head back to the Rose Bowl," Ball said. "It proved to everyone we could stay focused. For myself, I cherish this one a little more than the others."
Despite obstacles, Ball still managed to sizzle this season, becoming the Football Bowl Subdivision's career record holder for touchdowns with 82 and rushing touchdowns with 76.
His season of recovery made him a finalist for the Chicago Tribune Silver Football, which he won last season. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller are the other two finalists. The winner will be revealed Friday.
Ball was ready to set the season on fire from the jump after tying Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record with 39 as a junior and deciding to forgo the NFL draft.
But his plan went off course in the early hours of Aug. 1 on a walk home with friends.
Three Wisconsin students have pleaded not guilty to a substantial battery charge, which police said was possibly tied to a fight days earlier that involved members of the football team. Ball was not involved in that fight, police have said and Ball has insisted.
He suffered a concussion after being knocked to the ground and kicked. But Ball worried most about the hit his reputation might take.
"It was a rough time for me," he said. "I was worried that it would hurt my image. I made sure to stick with it (clearing his name). I made sure it started out on Twitter and (cooperated) with the investigation."
There were times Ball privately questioned whether he had made the right decision to return to Wisconsin for his senior season. He was held out of preseason practices, and the subsequent slow start hurt him.
In the second game, a loss to Oregon State, Ball rushed for only 61 yards and no touchdowns. He averaged only 90.6 yards through the first five games, subpar for a back who averaged 137.4 as a junior. He lost a fumble for the first time in his career against UTEP and left the game early.
"I'm only human," Ball said. "At times I was awake late at night thinking, 'Am I going to get my spark back?' What kept me going was the teammates I had around me.
"Right after the Oregon State game, I knew (missing practice) was going to hurt me. It hurt the team too. Later that night after that loss, I was thinking, 'This isn't looking too good.' I made sure to point the finger at myself."
Did the rest of the team ever know Ball's inner turmoil?
"Emphatically no," said coach Bret Bielema, who on Tuesday took the Arkansas coaching job. "He never let that side show up in practice. No questions and no hesitations. Montee keeps a lot of things inside."
Ball felt the game coming back to him in a victory against Illinois in which he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 159.6 yards over the last eight games, capped with 202 and three touchdowns in the Badgers' 70-31 rout of Nebraska in the Big Ten title game.
"I couldn't ask for anything better than to end it on a huge win like that," he said. "One thing we had lacked was energy. We most definitely had the energy (against Nebraska)."
Life is different for Ball lately. Instead of going out with teammates to celebrate a victory, he often will stay in his apartment and hang out with roommate and teammate James White. He isn't jaded, he said, but he is more wary of living life in the public eye.
"My entire life is in a fishbowl," he said. "It really showed me that there are people out there who don't want you to have success. They want to see you fall. It showed me not to be so naive. I believe it bettered me as a person. I told myself I'm just being tested."
Ball's rushing numbers are not as great as last season: 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns, compared with 1,923 and 33. But the way Bielema sees it, Ball has passed the test.
"It wasn't like he was an every-year starter," Bielema said. "He did it in a 2½-year window. That No. 28 is going to be remembered a long, long time."