The Gophers' story lines Saturday in Wisconsin were emblematic of how things have gone for the past three football seasons.
Philip Nelson got the headlines for his solid, auspicious play. MarQueis Gray was a compelling story for his injury-induced transfer to full-time receiver with a little more than a month left in his career.
So typical. Brandon Green -- a fifth-year senior, who forced his balky body into the lineup and made his first serious contribution of 2012 -- caught that perfect spiral, ushered it into the end zone and was the team's leading receiver Saturday. Yet he was overshadowed again.
"You have to feel good for a kid who's worked so hard," coach Jerry Kill said. While that's probably true, Green himself can't help but feel at least slightly melancholy about his dwindling college career.
There's no sense being humble; Green, 23, came to Minnesota with the same expectations for himself that most football fans projected for him after his stellar career at Chicago's Robeson High: All-Big Ten, certainly. All-American, possibly. Touchdowns and titles, part of a Gopher turnaround that Tim Brewster promised was coming.
But like so many promising football careers, Green's was derailed by one bad moment. A ligament tear in his left knee just two games into the 2010 season forced him to have surgery for a second time, and he just hasn't been the same speedster since.
He managed to nurse his way through 2011, and while he caught a touchdown in the Los Angeles Coliseum in the season opener, he never had another.
This season? Even worse. All summer, he and his close friend Gray told each other that this was the year they would finally get a little karmic payback.
"We were going to go out together, go out with a bang. He's the quarterback, I'm the receiver, let's make some plays," Green said. But just a couple of days into fall camp, his left knee ballooned. One again, his plans were derailed.
"Any time I ran around for a while, it would swell up, and it wouldn't stop. [Athletic trainers] would drain it, and it would come right back once I ran again," Green said. "After the first week, it was just about every day."
That's what made Saturday's appearance so meaningful. After two months of treatment, his knee has seemingly stabilized.
Green practiced for a week, and the knee seemed OK. He practiced for another week, and with the Gophers' receiving corps whittled down by other injuries, Kill decided to play him once more.
Midway through the first quarter, he got his chance. Green lined up as the middleman in a three-wideout set at the Badgers' 16, came off the line slowly for the first couple of steps, and when a linebacker cut underneath him, he suddenly burst into the clear. Nelson spotted him and looped a pass into his hands. Touchdown, Green, the fourth of his career, on his first catch of the season.
"Sometimes young receivers, they don't have that tempo," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "[Green] really gave Philip just the ideal location to get him the ball, which is great for a young quarterback."
He knows it, too. Nelson may be a precocious freshman, but that play made him realize how much his success depends upon receivers such as Green.
"He knows exactly what's going on out there. I always knew he's a smart guy, that he's going to settle in the gaps in the defense," said Nelson, who hit Green with two more passes, giving him a team-high 44 yards on the day.
"It's just unfortunate with his injury situation that he can't get out there more often, but he did a great job. I was really lucky to have him out there with me."
And for all he's gone through, Green feels a little bit lucky, too. He's already earned a degree in youth studies. He's learned a lot about football -- even worked out with Arizona's All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald -- and he hopes to build his own career coaching receivers.
He also hopes to salvage a few more catches, a few more touchdowns, a few more wins out of his final few games.
Mostly, though, he's learned to accept his fate -- and grow from it.
"I know I can battle through adversity now," Green said. "I feel like I'm a stronger person."