USA Today // Kirby Lee

Illini LB Hardy Nickerson named to Nagurski Watch List

Graduate transfer expected to make big impact in one season under his father, Illini DC Hardy Nickerson

If there was any doubt from Illinois football fans of the potential impact of graduate transfer Hardy Nickerson, take a look at the Nagurski Award Watch List released on Friday.

Nickerson, who transferred to Illinois for his final college football season and will be eligible to play immediately, was one of 88 players named to the watch list for the award given to the nation's top defensive player.

Nickerson led California with 112 tackles in 2015, finishing third among Pac-12 defenders. The Cal team captain started 27 games during the past three seasons in Berkeley. He transferred to Illinois for his final season to play under his father, Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson.

Nickerson, who will start at middle linebacker, fills a huge hole in the Illini defense following the graduation of four-year starting linebacker Mason Monheim and the transfer of two-year starter T.J. Neal.

Nickerson is the fourth Illini player to be named to preseason watch lists. Senior quarterback Wes Lunt was named to the Maxwell Award watch list (given to the nation's best player), senior defensive end Dawuane Smoot was named to the Bednarik Award watch list (given to the nation's best defensive player) and senior Joe Spencer was named to the Rimington Award watch list (given to the nation's top center).

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