Dad’s weekend means a little more for Illinois football duo


Austin Yattoni

Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson (10) tackles Western Michigan running back Jarvion Franklin (31) during the the game against Western Michigan at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 17. The Illini lost 34-10.

By Joey Figueroa, Staff writer

From 2014-2015, former All-Pro linebacker and current Illini football coach Hardy Nickerson shared his years of experience with NFL talents like Lavonte David, Mason Foster and Kwon Alexander as the linebacker coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though he was coaching an elite group of players, Nickerson’s thoughts were often about a player some 2,897 miles away.

That player was Nickerson’s son of the same name, who was busy piling up tackles for the Cal Golden Bears.

Weekends belonged to football for both father and son–Hardy Jr. playing on Saturdays, with Dad coaching on Sundays. Although their schedules rarely aligned, the two made sure to touch base in the middle of it all.

“We talked every night, especially after games,” Coach Nickerson said. “Some nights when I was with the Bucs the last two years it’d be those 3 o’ clock-in-the-morning calls. We always talk, that part hasn’t changed. It’s just that those conversations are a lot earlier, and we’re both able to get some sleep.”

It’s a lot easier for the Nickersons to have their daily conversations nowadays.

The elder Nickerson declined an offer from the San Francisco 49ers, instead opting to join head coach Lovie Smith’s coaching staff as Illinois’ defensive coordinator. His son followed suit, transferring to Illinois from Cal to play his last collegiate season under the guidance of his father.

The opportunity to play for Smith and other coaches with NFL pedigrees was the driving factor in Nickerson’s decision to transfer, but being able to have his father in the same area code was the cherry on top.

“It’s awesome just to be able to see him every day and talk to him,” Nickerson said. “I’m happy that I can play for him and be around him, and it’s just easier on our whole family. I learn so much from having him as a coach.”

Nine weeks into the season, the two have become a stabilizing presence both on the field and on the sideline. When game time rolls around, rarely do they find the time to take in just how special it is to have the opportunity to contribute their respective talents to the same team, but this weekend might be a little different.

Friday marks the beginning of Dad’s weekend at Illinois, and Saturday’s tilt against Michigan State will be played in front of hundreds of fathers and kids alike.

Coach Nickerson said he sees every game day as a Dad’s day, but knows calling plays for his son to execute on a day dedicated to the father-child bond will have even more meaning.

“It’ll be a special day for both me and Hardy,” coach Nickerson said. “It’s been fun and great having him here.”

Plenty of Illini fathers will pile into the Memorial Stadium seats to watch their sons lay it on the line against the Spartans on Saturday afternoon. The same holds true for sophomore offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, who can easily relate to what the Nickersons are going through this season.

“I can definitely see the relationship that they have,” Allegretti said. “I had a great relationship with my dad when I was playing for him and still do now, so that’s a pretty cool experience.”

From when he was five-years-old all the way until high school, Allegretti’s father, Carl, coached him in football and wrestling. The elder Allegretti played football at Butler and made sure to pass down his knowledge to the next generation.

Allegretti said the years of preparation provided by his father have molded him into the reliable player he is today.

“It was cool,” Allegretti said. “He’s a very high-energy, enthusiastic guy, so we definitely had some nights where there was screaming and stuff like that. But he made me who I am and I loved getting coached like that.”

Allegretti has had the pleasure of having his father cheer him on from the stands in every single one of his games as an Illini.

Unfortunately, Coach Nickerson wasn’t able to do the same when his favorite linebacker played for Cal.

But this season, he hasn’t missed a game yet.

“It’s been a lot of fun as a dad to just have him around,” Nickerson said. “It’s been an unbelievable experience.”

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