5 Illinois football players who will battle for their job in spring practice

Sep 8, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Aidan Laughery (21)
Sep 8, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Aidan Laughery (21) / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
3 of 5

3. RB Aidan Laughery

Position battles in spring practice aren’t just about the starters on the depth chart. Numerous positions will need to shake out to see who emerges as the right second and third-string options.

I think the Illinois football running back position is in that situation. The starter is obviously going to be Kaden Feagin. The monster running back had a solid freshman season with 95 carries for 438 yards and two touchdowns. His presence pushed Reggie Love III out the door and into the arms of the Purdue Boilermakers.

With Feagin slated to get the start in 2024, who is going to be his second-string backup? I thought Aidan Laughery was clearly the best third-string running back on the Illinois roster last season. He was the most effective and had the best burst.

But there is going to be some competition in 2024 for that backup role. Laughery might enter spring practice as the primary backup, but there are options behind him.

If Josh McCray could ever stay healthy, he would be someone who could take the backup running back job. McCray continues to get injured every season, and it breaks my heart to watch.

While he won't be at spring practice because he is enrolling in the summer, Ca'lil Valentine is another player to watch. He is a four-star running back coming in from the class of 2023. Valentine has great quickness and will make an impact on the team from day one.

So, while some of the competition for the backup running back spot won't be at spring practice, that doesn't mean Laughery can relax. He has to show the coaches he is the best option or that spot could go to a newcomer when the 2024 season kicks off.