While playing in only two games last season because of a back injury, Illinois State offensive lineman Gabe Megginson had plenty of newfound free time.
On gamedays, he often sensed he was out of place on the sidelines.
“I felt so lazy,” he joked. “I’m just sitting there watching everybody, in sweats, drinking coffee.”
Away from the stadium, he filled his time with a new musical venture – the harmonica.
He practiced for hours during the season and even mastered a Stevie Wonder song.
“I know the solo from ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’” he boasted. “So, I’ve got that.”
The road ahead
Despite the cancellation of spring football across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Megginson is facing the 2020 season on a happier note after surgery last fall.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m pretty much doing everything. I’m still limited on running, and I probably won’t squat (in the weight room). I think that’s a good idea.”
Megginson, a fifth-year senior last season who transferred from the University of Illinois before the 2018 campaign, said he never imagined being part of the Redbird program for yet another season because of his back.
“In the preseason, it started hurting and I remember thinking, ‘I’ll never do six years of college,’” said Megginson, who started 11 games at left guard in 2018. “As soon as it happened again, I thought, ‘Who do I call to get a sixth year?’”
Megginson, who said he will petition the NCAA this spring for a sixth season, was even more encouraged to come back after watching his teammates make a run to the FCS quarterfinals.
“That was the best team I’ve ever played on,” he said. “That was fun to watch. I was a little upset I couldn’t be out there. (The offense) had their struggles, but they always found a way to get it done. It was awesome to see.”
How it began
A “shooting” pain in his left foot nagged at him during spring ball in 2019, months before the season, but it went away for the summer.
“I just kind of ignored it,” Megginson said.
When fall camp started, it came roaring back.
“It was tough getting into a stance,” Megginson said. “My left leg would tingle all the way down. I just sweated. It was bad. A lot of sweat. It was so uncomfortable.”
Megginson said he finally couldn’t avoid the training room and decided to have it examined.
What was discovered was an injury to the L5 S1 area of the low back.
Megginson said he travelled to the East Coast to have surgery performed by specialists at New Jersey-based Trinitas Health.
“They were great people, and it was awesome care,” he said. “I walked that day (after surgery) and it was already better that day – a big relief.”
His absence from the lineup led to Illinois State trying multiple starting lineup combinations during the season.
“He was one of our best linemen,” Redbirds head coach Brock Spack said. “He’s a physical, athletic body. To not have him all year, it took us a while to figure out what we were going to do.”
Spack said when Megginson returns, he will again fill one of the team’s guard spots.
Losing Megginson also made the team laugh a little less, according to Spack.
“It took a little of our personality,” he said. “He’s a little quirky, in a fun way.”
Spack stressed that the program will remain cautious as the calendar turns toward the fall.
“We have to be careful with him so we can get him to gameday,” he said.