The 2013 season has been a rough one for the Cal Bears, particularly on defense. The Bears rank dead last in the Pac 12 in total defense, surrendering 525.4 yards per game, and scoring defense, allowing 44.4 points per game. It could be argued they are one of the worst defenses in the entire country. But one bright spot has been playing time for young players as Sonny Dykes attempts to build for the future. He may have found the foundation to build his defense on for years to come with freshman linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr.
Nickerson got the nod to start at middle linebacker in the season opener against the Northwestern Wildcats because of an injury to projected starter Nick Forbes. He’s played in every game so far this season (a feat for a Cal defender this season) and leads the team with 25 solo tackles and shares the team-lead of 48 total tackles with junior linebacker Khairi Fortt. He’s also made three tackles for loss, broken up a pass and forced a fumble this season.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound redshirt freshman and son of two-time first-team All-Pro NFL linebacker Hardy Nickerson has quickly emerged as a leader for this decimated Cal defense. He’s been a consistent presence for the Bears, recording at least four tackles per game in every contest except the opener, and had arguably his best game against the Ohio State Buckeyes when he made 11 tackles in the losing effort. His 6.86 tackles per game average rank him in a tie for No. 14 in the conference with A.J. Tarpley of the Stanford Cardinal and his teammate Fortt.
As he continues to gain confidence and experience, Nickerson will only improve as a football player for Cal. While the present looks pretty grim at 1-6 on the season, the future is bright in Berkeley thanks to Nickerson as one of the team’s future defensive stars.