CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Gibson City native Aidan Laughery is enjoying life out on his own for the first time, getting to college a semester early to ingrain himself in the Illinois football culture. But he’s never too far in case he gets homesick.

“It’s best of both worlds, I can go home and have my mom do my laundry and everything like that,” Laughery said. “But I’m still not far away physically but in a different atmosphere and world over here.”

The 5-foot-11 running back is one of eight early enrollees for the Illini this Spring. Laughery is joining a deep position group which returns its top three rushers from 2021, but that’s not discouraging the young back from using this time to learn.

“A lot of guys will probably pick a college where they’ll be that guy,” Laughery said. “They’ll go there, they’ll start, whatever. I came here knowing I was going into a room with loaded guys. Guys that are good, that are known. I think that really is going to benefit me in the long run, because right now it’s a lot of learning for me. I think it’s beneficial, and I’m really happy that I’m here.”

Even with the log jam, Laughery’s speed is something that could help the freshman see the field early in his career.

“Really from first week to where we are today has been pretty impressive,” Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said. “He’s been a steady performer all the way through, and hopefully gonna be able to find a role in our offense in the Fall.”

“The guys in the running back room encourage me, Chase Brown especially,” added Laughery. “Being that older guy, the leadership role, he’s in a great position, he doesn’t have to do that. Just the encouragement from all the coaches, especially the players, gives me the confidence to be me and go out there and just play.”

Adjusting to life outside your hometown takes time but it helps to have a former high school teammate by your side. That’s exactly the role Illini outside linebacker Bryce Barnes is playing.

“We’re super close,” said Laughery. “It’s good to just have that guy here for me. Talking about life back home in Gibson City. It’s been good to have him as a close friend to talk to.”

As one of the faces for Bret Bielema’s in-state recruiting initiative, Laughery will see the Memorial Stadium turf for the first time Thursday night for the Spring Game at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.