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Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr. named to 2016 Nagurski Trophy Watch List

The new Fighting Illini linebacker is one of 88 players on the list.

Illinois' Hardy Nickerson Jr. has been named to the 2016 Bronco Nagurski Trophy Watch List. The program's new starting middle linebacker is one of 88 players to make the preseason spotlight for the annual award, which is presented to the nation's top defensive player.

Nickerson, a graduate transfer, left California a few months ago to join his father -- Illinois' new defensive coordinator -- in Champaign. During his four seasons at Berkeley, Nickerson developed into one of the Pac-12's best linebackers; he appeared in 34 games and totaled 246 tackles, including a whopping 112 last season. You can click here to view his season totals, and his game log can also be found right here.

The Fighting Illini have never had a player win the Nagurski Trophy, but Whitney Mercilus came close a finalist back in 2011. Here's a bit more information on the honor:

Created in 1993 by the Football Writers Association of America, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the best defensive player in college football and is presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The award was established to complement the Heisman Trophy Award, which at the time had never been presented to a defensive player.