It follows Seth Mitchell around wherever he goes, like the rain cloud in a cartoon looking to bring down his day. It's been there in the morning knocking on his bedroom door and after practice when the day is done.
Lingering knee problems have kept the sophomore linebacker down, but he won't let them knock him out.
"It lives with him," junior linebacker Ronald Stanley said. "I'm his roommate and I can feel his pain. He's blocked it out as much as he can."
He's rehabilitated the right knee after a sprained medial collateral ligament kept him from playing in 2001 and forced him to miss five games in 2002, and now Mitchell has become a force in MSU's defensive plans.
"Seth is going to become more of a factor when we start to see people that run the football," head coach John L. Smith said. "He's a major part."
After entering MSU (7-2 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) as a Superprep All-American, the linebacker has never been allowed to hit his stride. Although the knee might never fully heal, the sophomore has maintained his training regimen and had his best game of the season against Michigan, recording a game-high 17 tackles in the 27-20 loss.
"Seth has helped us out a lot, he has been a big playmaker in some games," Stanley said. "He really surprised me because he is still having trouble with his knee."
Mitchell will continue to share time with senior Mike Labinjo and Stanley to give MSU some much-needed depth as the season goes on.
The Spartans' final three opponents all are teams that will try to establish the running game. This weekend, although Ohio State has had to play without Maurice Clarett all season, the Buckeyes will depend on Lydell Ross, who is averaging 57.6 yards per game.
To finish the season, both Wisconsin and Penn State also will look to run first and pass second.
"We're going to have to stop their run and make them one-dimensional," Mitchell said.
Last week, the Spartans ran into trouble defending the run because of U-M's dynamic attack. MSU decided to focus on defending the pass, using bracket coverage in an attempt to shut down the Wolverines' receivers.
The tactic backfired, however, when the Wolverines decided to stick with running the football. Senior Chris Perry ran 51 times for 219 yards and took advantage of the defense.
"Against Michigan, we were a man away from filling our gaps and making a 2-yard loss," Mitchell said. "If we stay disciplined, this week we should be fine against Ohio State."
But against more one-dimensional offenses like the remainder of MSU's games, a player like Mitchell can be more successful. They can focus more on blitzing the passing and running games and less on double-teaming the wide receivers.
"Michigan was a better-balanced team," Mitchell said. "But it's just going to come down to who wants it most."
Against both Minnesota and Iowa, teams that typically run the football, the Spartans have excelled, stopping the run early and making their opponents pass to win. They just couldn't pass enough.