Bob Asmussen | Laughery trying to make the most of his opportunity

Apr. 19—CHAMPAIGN — If his carries match his uniform number (21) on Saturday, you won't hear a bit of complaint from Aidan Laughery.

The pride of Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High wants every rep he can get during Illinois football's spring game at Memorial Stadium

It has been a busy month-plus of practice for Laughery. Teammates and fellow running backs Kaden Feagin and Jordan Anderson are recovering from major surgeries and haven't been available. That leaves Laughery and Josh McCray to handle the bulk of the carries.

"It's been really fun," Laughery said. "We've had good weather. Past spring around here it's been 20 degrees and snowing.

"In our room and on offense especially, we've been working hard every day, we've been growing every day. We're excited for Saturday."

The spring has offered a chance for Laughery to get noticed, and he has taken advantage of the opportunity.

"What I've seen from Aidan is speed," third-year Illinois offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. said. "Not just a guy that's fast, but a guy that will hit 'em between the tackles, a guy who takes a great deal of pride in his work and how he approached it daily. Really, really, really taken off as a player. Excited about his growth. I've been really pleased with Aidan and his progress."

At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Laughery is a smaller-sized back than the 6-3, 250-pound Feagin and the 6-1, 235-pound McCray.

"He certainly brings a different running style," Lunney said. "And I think that's a good thing for us offensively."

Laughery is making his speed work for him on the field.

"His natural abilities are being unlocked on a daily basis," Lunney said. "That natural skill set he has is very unique when it comes to the speed."

With Feagin sidelined, Laughery has been taking first-team snaps during workouts.

"It's been awesome," Laughery said. "I feel like this spring I've really taken advantage in kind of processing the game a lot better and understanding why things work the way they work."

Limited duty

Hard to believe Laughery is going into his third season. He played one game in 2022 against Chattanooga, then redshirted. In 2023, Laughery got into nine games. He carried 19 times for 81 yards and his first college touchdown against Florida Atlantic.

The game time was invaluable.

Two years of being a sponge on the sidelines and in the film room are paying off for Laughery.

"Experience and growth, it's big for me," he said. "It's applying what you are learning and really doing it on the field and really thinking about it. The more reps you get, it's going to come easier for you."

Close to homeLaughery played in high school 32 miles from Memorial Stadium. He isn't quite a townie like J Leman but he is townie-adjacent.

He wasn't the only former Falcon playing for Illinois in 2023. Defensive lineman Bryce Barnes walked on and got significant playing time.

Barnes worked out for NFL scouts earlier this week.

"I talked with him about that like, 'Dude, it's weird you're gone. We don't have the Gibson City connection here anymore,'" Laughery said. "I'm so happy for Bryce. He's had a great career. ... I'm so proud of that guy. I'm excited for what the next chapter holds for him."

Another local connection exists in the backfield. Feagin, The News-Gazette's All-Area Player of the Year in 2022, is an Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond graduate.

"I didn't know Kaden too well," Laughery said. "He was kind of a legend to me. Obviously, we're from two small towns and we jelled really well. I'm excited he's here. He's one of my closest friends. He's a great dude and he's a great football player."

Laughery and Feagin can make a quick trip to see the family pretty much any time. In theory.

"Not as much as you might think it would," Laughery said. "When I first got here, definitely."