Lovie Smith

Like father, like son: Nickerson Jr. setting tone for Illini

Illinois coach Lovie Smith got a fantastic two-for-one deal when he hired Hardy Nickerson as his defensive coordinator. Once Nickerson arrived in Champaign, his son decided to follow as a graduate transfer from California.

Hardy Jr.'s impact has been felt immediately. Though he didn't arrive until the start of preseason practice, the linebacker was elected a team captain. In the opener against Murray State, he made a team-leading 11 tackles with a sack.

Smith said on the Big Ten coaches' call Tuesday that it came as a surprise when Nickerson decided to transfer to Illinois for his final year after being a three-year starter and 2015 captain at Cal.

"We tried to...