CHAMPAIGN - Gabe Megginson already is a fan favorite at Illinois.
The former four-star Jacksonville, Ill., product immediately endeared himself when he became one of the few top prospects to choose the Illini over offers from Big Ten foes like Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State.
But Megginson received a reminder last week that his play on the field ultimately matters most.
Due to poor performance, the highly touted redshirt freshman was benched for Saturday's 41-8 loss at Michigan. In his place, senior Connor Brennan made his first career start.
"It was weird then," Megginson told Illini Inquirer on Tuesday. "I believed it, but it didn't feel like it was happening until the game. It bugged me last week, but this week it's definitely helped me play harder. I think I've definitely focused a lot better. I think I'm starting to find that groove again hopefully. I think I'm putting it all out there like they want it.
"I knew in myself it was consistency. I didn't really do anything to change it. I kept doing the same routine. I definitely got their message. They've told me. They didn't do it out of spite or anything. They just had to pick the better option. I absolutely think Brennan is that option."
Megginson, the No. 122 player overall in the Class of 2014, started the previous five games in which he was healthy (he missed the Western Michigan game due to an ankle sprain).
Most coaches expect struggles from first-year offensive linemen. The physicality and speed in the trenches is cranked up a few notches from high school to college. And players used to dominating in high school based solely on their physical talents often struggle in the transition to a level that relies more on technique and preparation.
"I wouldn't use young as an excuse," Megginson said. "I just didn't really take advantage of my technique. It's all about technique. That's probably the worst inconsistency in me. I just get out there and I'll be playing hard, but I'll just be using the wrong technique. You got to find that balance."
Megginson's teammate Nick Allegretti struggled with that transition last year as a redshirt freshman. But a year later, Allegretti looks like the Illini's best offensive lineman and a foundation piece for the next few seasons.
Illinois offensive coordinator Garrick McGee wants to see Megginson take more incremental steps forward.
"He's a good lineman -- when he's focused and doing what he's coached to do," McGee said. "We selected him as one of our starting five to begin the season, so we like him a lot and we think he's going to be a big part of our future as we develop our program. We just need to see him all develop.
http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1720417-fact-or-fiction-illi... "(I want to see) just development., just overall fundamental development. That's pretty much it. That's how it is with most linemen, but him being a young kid who's going to be here for a while, we're going to expect a lot out of him as we build our program, so I want to see daily development in regards to his fundamentals, his technique and doing what he's coached to do."
Megginson will continue to show his personality. That's part of who he is, and he doesn't think humor will take away from his focus on the field.
But he now knows that a four-star ranking and silly viral videos won't be remembered as fondly if he doesn't produce on the field. The coaches sent him that message last week.
"There are those dudes who come in as three stars and are just freaks right away, and then there are guys who are four stars and it just takes a while," Megginson said. "You mature at your own rate, and hopefully that peak that's expected of you is reached. During the road to it and on the journey, there's some bumps."