LB Hardy Nickerson (USA Today)

Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson has decided to take the graduate transfer route and join his father at Illinois

Senior Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson has announced that he will graduate from Berkeley this spring, and transfer to Illinois, to join his father, Hardy Nickerson, Sr., also a former Cal linebacker.

After participating in spring football with California, senior linebacker Hardy Nickerson, Jr., has announced that he will graduate from Berkeley this spring, and then transfer as a graduate student to Illinois, to join his father, Hardy Nickerson, Sr., who was named the Illini's defensive coordinator on March 14. Nickerson will be in contention to start at MIKE linebacker.

Nickerson, Jr., did not play in the spring game, though he was suited up.

Nickerson, Sr., who coached linebackers on Lovie Smith's staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was formerly Hardy, Jr.'s coach while at Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd. Nickerson, Sr., and was a four-year letterwinner for the Bears from 1983-86. Nickerson, Sr., is second on the school's all-time tackles list, and holds the single-season record with 167, in 1985. Nickerson, Jr.'s mother, Amy, and twin sister, Haleigh, are are also Cal alums.

"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," Nickerson, Jr., said in a statement. Before spring, Cal head coach Sonny Dykes called Nickerson, Jr., the "bell cow" of the Bears defense. In three years, Nickerson played in 35 games with 27 starts, tallying 246 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, two pass deflections, two forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered. He tallied 2.0 sacks in his time at Cal. He was the team's Defensive MVP this season, and an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection. Nickerson earned Pac-12 All-Academic honors twice with second-team recognition as a redshirt freshman and an honorable mention selection during his sophomore campaign.

“This is a unique situation where Hardy has an opportunity to play his final season of college football for his father,” Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. “The Nickerson family is extremely tight-knit and this is something that is only happening because of their tremendous family relationship. We hate to lose Hardy for next season but wish him, his father and their entire family the best. Hardy has been a tremendous representative of our university, our football program and the Cal community both on and off the field for the past four years.”

The Bears have now lost three linebackers from last season, who were not expected to leave. Jake Kearney medically retired because of a back issue, Michael Barton will be a graduate transfer to Arizona, and now, Nickerson will depart.

With two linebackers in line to come in, in the fall -- Jordan Kunaszyk and Cameron Goode -- the position is going to be thin, though the move of Derron Brown from safety has bolstered the ranks. Hamilton Anoa'i and Devante Downs are coming back off of injury, with Aisea TongilavaA.J. Greathouse and Ray Davison remaining as the only other scholarship linebackers.

Full statement from Nickerson:

After much thought, prayer 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. 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 college football for my father and Head Coach Lovie Smith, and it is an opportunity I cannot simply pass up.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Golden Bear and have always tried to positively represent the university in everything I do, both on the football field and in the classroom. Academically speaking, I am especially proud of my success as a student, which is no easy task considering the balancing act student-athletes must perform to manage their athletic and academic lives. I have always been motivated excel academically and am very thankful that Cal is a university that demands academic excellence. My family also places a high premium on education -- both of my parents and two sisters are all Cal graduates, and now I am proud to say I will be the next Nickerson to graduate with a degree from the number one public university in the world!

On the football field, I have tried to always be the best competitor I can, and have dedicated myself day in and day out seeking the best preparation and best performance possible. I gave everything I had in every game, pouring out my heart, sweat, and sometimes tears, always hoping to secure a victory for our Cal fans. I am thrilled to have finally enjoyed a winning season in 2015 and to have been a part of building something that felt so special. I have had a great career and will always be grateful for so many awesome experiences. I will always be a California Golden Bear.

I would like to thank Coach Dykes and the entire coaching staff, trainers, administrative and operations staff, academic support, Coach [Jeff] Tedford, who recruited me, Cal Athletics, and all of the alumni and fans who have given me the utmost support and inspiration. But most importantly, I want to thank my teammates, who are my family and who I will miss tremendously. My teammates are an extension of myself. We've been through an awful lot together and I will never forget all of the experiences that we have shared. It has been an honor to be a part of the Cal football family and I wish the team much success in the future. Go Bears! Top Stories