Cal’s football team lost a key defensive player Thursday when senior linebacker Hardy Nickerson announced he will graduate this summer and transfer to Illinois to play for his father, the Illini’s new defensive coordinator.
Nickerson, who led the team in tackles last season, said the decision to leave was tough but he could not pass up the chance to play for his father, Hardy Nickerson Sr., a former star at Cal who later played in the NFL.
“After much thought and numerous discussions with my parents, I have decided to graduate from Cal and pursue a post-graduate degree at the University of Illinois in the fall,” Nickerson said. “A most unique opportunity presented itself when my father joined the Illinois football staff as their new defensive coordinator just last month.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play my final year of college football for my father and head coach Lovie Smith, and it is an opportunity that I simply cannot pass up.”
Cal coach Sonny Dykes called Nickerson’s situation “a unique opportunity” and was understanding of his decision.
“The Nickerson family is extremely tight-knit and this is something that is only happening because of their tremendous family relationship,” he said. “We hate to lose Hardy for next season but wish him, his father and their entire family the best.”
Nickerson played in 35 games with 27 starts during his final three seasons at Cal from 2013-15 after redshirting as a true freshman in 2012. He finished with 246 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks and one interception.