Looks Like University Of Illinois - Aidan Laughery

Jul 16, 2021

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When I left for my little trip to Oregon on June 30th I bragged about how I was getting close to being caught up on LLUOI posts. And in the two weeks since there were two basketball commits and four more football commits added to the pile. I want all of these posts to be at least four-hour research-and-writing affairs - sometimes up to eight hours - so if the average is six hours of research and writing, that's 36 hours added to the pile when I was already behind. Never brag about being "nearly caught up".

I should probably explain "six hours". It's not like the writing part takes six hours. It's mostly research. But it's not really even research. How can I explain this? Maybe I'll just take you through this one.

Last night I watched Laughery's commitment on TV. While on the phone with Carmen. Two grown men in their late 40's, on the phone, one in Chicago, one in Champaign watching the live broadcast on WCIA. I turn the volume up really high so that Carmen can hear him announce the choice. Had Carmen not been driving, we probably would have FaceTime'd? It's just so embarrassing but it's who we are. We were on the phone after the Eric Jefferson commitment in 1996, so why would 2021 be any different?

I had to get off the phone with Carmen because my wife was waiting to eat dinner. Once more: I am 48 years old, and I had to give my buddy the "sorry, gotta go - dinner time" while we were live-streaming Laughery and discussing Kofi. There is great joy in accepting who you are and then just being that person.

After my wife went to bed last night I had an IlliniBoard meeting (Illini Boardmeeting?) which was just Tyler and I on a Zoom call. When I got off of that call, I watched some Laughery film. This is not my gif-capture film watching. I wasn't even sure if I was writing this one today. I was just watching to watch. Offensive highlights, defensive highlights, single game against El Paso-Gridley highlights. It's soothing before going to sleep.

This morning, since I had watched so many highlights, I decided to write this one today. But I had to mow the lawn first. And write the Shammond Cooper 90i post. I sent a few Laughery texts here and there throughout the day, at some point while eating lunch I watched his interview on WCIA from last night, and then read a few articles on Iowa's recruiting to get some idea on the importance of Laughery to the Hawkeyes. If you're an Athletic subscriber I'd suggest this article about their recruiting struggles in the 2022 class.

After that, I just wasn't feeling it working at home. Sometimes I just need to change the environment. It didn't feel like a coffeehouse afternoon, so I chose Culver's. No idea why I chose Culver's but here I am, in a booth, with surprisingly solid wifi, listening to the original London cast recording of Les Mis ("ah yes the virtuous Fantine..." in my ears as I type), drinking my third Tropicana Light Lemonade and going through Laughery's recruiting profiles (and Twitter feed) trying to get a feel for his commitment.

Feel is everything when writing LLUOI posts. I cannot emphasize this enough. It's the main reason I don't just sit down and crank out a post when player commits. I'll sometimes try, and it's not there, and I'll shelve the player and write a different article. I know that's really dumb from a business angle, but I want these posts to be hours of evaluation so that I can get a feel for where the player might fit. I just keep watching and reading and texting and watching and then it will click and I'll start writing.

My main takeaway with Laughery - and I don't know why it took me so long to land here - was that a player with Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Washington State offers who is 32 miles from Memorial Stadium simply must play his college career in orange and blue. Gibson City is even closer than Danville, so this is the closest P5 recruit to Memorial Stadium since... thinking out loud here... that kid from Tuscola who went to Oklahoma State maybe four years ago? I think that's right. Jacardia Wright from Decatur St. Teresa (50 miles away) went to K-State in 2019, and Julian Pearl/Caleb Griffin are from Danville (37 miles from the stadium), and I can't think of any recruits in Champaign-Urbana recently, so yeah, I think this was the closest P5 recruit to campus since Hunter Woodard at Tuscola (2018 class).

I know I've said repeatedly that I don't really care where the players come from - "just find talent so we can compete in the Big Ten West". But with a player 32 miles away from Memorial Stadium, there's a little extra "gotta win that one". He grew up what - 15 miles from Camp Rantoul? Illinois football needs to mean something in East Central Illinois. Once you get to, like, Bloomington, that feeling fades (in my opinion). Maybe it's because I live here now, but this inner circle of small towns within 30-ish miles - draw a rough circle touching Tuscola, Monticello, Farmer City, Gibson City, Paxton, over to Danville and then back down to Tuscola - is this extremely Illini-centric area.

{snaps fingers} I figured it out. I've told the story before that my job while in college was working in the News Gazette sports department. I started there as a scoretaker. On Friday nights in the fall (and other weeknights during high school basketball season), I'd go to the News Gazette building and answer the phone when the Bismarck-Henning coach would call to give me the box score for their game against Atwood-Hammond.

Because high school scores came exclusively from the paper in those days, there were very specific areas where the scores were printed. Niantic-Harristown? That's a Decatur paper score. But Argenta-Oreana? Sure, that's a Decatur-ish high school, but there's some people in Argenta - especially people closer to Cisco - who got their scores from the News Gazette.

That's the footprint I'm talking about. Monticello? Villa Grove? Rantoul? Those scores had to be in the News-Gazette the next day. Maroa-Forsyth folks? They're calling the Herald-Review if they can't find the score (even though it might be running in the News Gazette). GCMS? Has to be in the News Gazoo.

(I can say News Gazoo because I worked there. I'm an insider.)

That's the area I'm talking about here. The "call the News Gazette asking why the Rossville-Alvin girls basketball score wasn't printed" area. That might not even be a thing anymore - I know a lot of these schools co-op'd since then and three high schools compete as one in sports. But for my brain, Arthur-Lovington is a thing and Georgetown-Ridge Farm is a thing.

So that's why this one is big. I don't care if Iowa or Michigan State come calling - a kid from GCMS needs to be in Champaign. I know that the area immediately surrounding Memorial Stadium is not the same as the area immediately surrounding Iowa City, and I know that the last Illini game in 2019 probably only had 24,601 people in attendance, but if you want to build this area to be like the Iowa City area, it starts with landing a kid like this. And given how I shrugged when Hunter Woodard chose Oklahoma State, I can tell you that this definitely is influenced by living here for the last 16 months.

I should probably start writing about Laughery now.

First, in what seems to be a theme, I'm not exactly sure where he plays in college. He's a high school running back with speed and agility, but the very first thing I think when watching his film is "kick returner". Which, yes, is often performed by one of the offensive skill players, but it could also be a defensive back.

The first player that came to mind as I was watching his film today (second viewing) was Eugene Wilson. No idea why - that's just how my comp-filled brain works. It's almost like a readout. I watch the film and then my brain says "Eugene Wilson". My brain always comps best-case scenarios.

Wilson was a great defensive back at Illinois, but he really burst on the scene as a returner. He just had this knack for adjusting his return three degrees while running full speed and that's enough to blow by that tackler running at full speed. It's not even a cut. It's just this subtle adjustment. I can still remember the 1999 season and this freshman returner who just had a knack for making guys miss by not even looking like he's trying to make them miss.

He had a pretty long career in the NFL, too. 2nd round pick of the Patriots, won two Super Bowls. By that time he was purely a safety (he was both CB and S at Illinois), and he wasn't a kick returner in the NFL, but he just had that subtle rudder where he could quickly adjust his direction while running full speed.

That's why my first thought is "hope Laughery ends up at safety while also returning kicks". He might just be a pure running back. Heck, he might even be a Donny Navarro-like wide receiver. But my hope is safety. Dream scenario: Eugene Wilson.

Thankfully, his Hudl tape is split into both offensive plays and defensive plays. Let's start with defense.

I'd like a safety who pops the ball out like this:

I would also like a safety who accelerates into tackles like this:

I know that 5'-11" is maybe a little short for safety. But just watch him running there. Even the stutter step shows football quicks. Go back to that one and watch his feet compared to the other players in white. He floats across the field while the rest of the players are running.

On offense, you probably know what I'm going to say. While it's fun to watch plays like this on some running back's film...

...you really want to see them carry some tackles forward. Big Ten running backs will have maybe five untouched one-cut-and-he's-gone runs like the one above. The successful backs turn 2 yards into 5 yards. That's really all there is to it.

So while this is just a game against small school competition, it's nice to see a highlight like this:

Safety meets him at the five, another defender joins in, Laughery keeps his feet and drives into the endzone.

Maybe he's a running back. Maybe he's a slot guy. Maybe he's a defensive back. Mainly, I just want him returning kicks.

So, Michigan State, Iowa, and Minnesota all offer a kid from East Central Illinois but he decides to stay home. That's a win all around. And with his versatility, that's worthy of about 3.5 Cruises.

Aidan Laughery - three and one-half Tom Cruises.


illinizeeman on July 16, 2021 @ 07:28 AM

I don't understand the disparity between TCs for Laughery and Hollins. Different positions, but I believe equal impact potential.

Robert on July 16, 2021 @ 11:46 AM

Maybe it's just the wording here, but what is it that you don't understand?

Like, if you said "I disagree, I think they're the same player and should be rated the same", that's cool - we disagree. You said you don't understand why there's such disparity, and I feel like I used the majority of the 4,000 words in the two posts to explain why I feel this way.

IBFan on July 16, 2021 @ 07:31 AM

Great comparison. Here’s hoping he has a successful career like Eugene.
With other P5 offers and especially the head to head with Iowa this was such a massive win for BB. Go Illini!

Brave Illini on July 16, 2021 @ 07:51 AM

Really appreciate the way you can put your pro-Illini personal side, with all the emotions that go with that, aside and produce work that is objective, unbiased, and based on quality research and facts. Unlike many others, your feelings as you described them, are informed, not empty

Brave Illini on July 16, 2021 @ 07:55 AM

I should have used the word "feel," not "feelings." They are not the same. Anyway, great post.

IlliniBobLoblaw on July 16, 2021 @ 09:15 AM

I think there’s such a thing as “too local”, where a kid just might want to spread his wings a bit, ya’ know? Didn’t matter to this kid apparently, but “going away to college” is such a powerful draw that I wouldn’t have considered this a recruiting miss had he chosen Iowa,

skibdaddy on July 16, 2021 @ 12:44 PM

I can see that some might want to get out of Dodge, but I went to the U of I and am from Urbana. It was great because I could easily get home and get a home cooked meal and my laundry done. Campus is a completely separate entity and you can stay there if you want, but gettting home is easy too if you miss Mommy.

Sean on July 16, 2021 @ 10:53 AM

I would like you to fix one thing in your writing because it bugs me to no end. Please put your punctuation inside quotes.

For example: Never brag about being "nearly caught up". Should be: Never brag about being "nearly caught up."

Please and thank you.

Robert on July 16, 2021 @ 11:38 AM

I have a friend who brought this up a few weeks ago. I've been trying to fix it but I just can't make my brain switch over. I'm just going to have to do a second edit on every post and go through every quote to make sure the punctuation is correct.

It's almost like not having any journalism classes (or even writing classes) is harmful to my new career.

Norcal Illini on July 17, 2021 @ 07:13 PM

While you’re at it, you could work on proper use of subject and object pronouns I and me. It should be, “which is just Tyler and me on a Zoom call.” The easy way to remember when you have compound objects is to take out the other object, i.e., “which is just me on a Zoom call.” You wouldn’t use I in that case, so don’t change it when you add the other person. Your grammar lesson for the day. :)

Bear8287 on July 19, 2021 @ 05:49 PM

I also use that tip. (Maybe it's an Illini in NorCal thing?)

skibdaddy on July 16, 2021 @ 12:30 PM

"There is great joy in accepting who you are and then just being that person." - pure wisdom

jim@jbobrienassociates.com on July 16, 2021 @ 01:01 PM

Really Nice Get by BB! Football stadium needs Avid Fans in the 64k seats. Great kids from great programs in TX. and FL. are always wanted but having fans from within 2-3 hours who will drive, arrive early and stay late to watch their own friends/buddies/players is very important. Go Illini!

IBFan on July 18, 2021 @ 09:56 AM

Does writing have to be done in a certain way? Is it more math than art? I have to tolerate you discussing punctuation on a post about one of the biggest recruits of the year. That’s your contribution and even as monumentally irrelevant as me find it, “accepted”. Paint away Robert

Duce20 on July 19, 2021 @ 09:01 AM

Talked to a coach on staff and they are going to give him every opportunity to stay on Offense.

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