WASHINGTON — Nyckoles Harbor’s coaches believe it’s foolish to compare him to any other high school athlete in America – and, quite frankly, unfair to the other kids.
Instead, Archbishop Carroll High School football coach Robert Harris mentions Harbor in the same breath as professional stars, while likening the 17-year-old’s physical attributes to ingredients in a pot of gumbo – a dash of Usain Bolt and Calvin Johnson here, bits of Derrick Brooks and Von Miller there.
“I probably would throw a little Randy Moss in there,” Harris continues. “And we would get the capabilities of what (Harbor) can possibly be in the future.”
Hyperbolic? Sure. But Harbor is the rare athlete who can even invite such comparisons.
At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he has the size of an NFL edge rusher and the speed of a potential Olympic sprinter. In football, he is a five-star recruit who plays on both sides of the ball, with 47 tackles for a loss and 10 touchdown catches over the past two seasons. In track, he ran the 100-meter dash in 10.22 seconds – the seventh-fastest under-18 time in the world this year, according to World Athletics.
“He’s really one of the most unique prospects that we’ve seen in Rivals history, dating back to 2002,” said Adam Gorney, the national recruiting director for Rivals and Yahoo! Sports. “There just aren’t many athletes at his level, anywhere.”
A clip of Harbor on the track went viral on social media earlier this year, showing him cruising past – and towering over – fellow sprinters at a meet in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
More recently, the headlines about him have centered around his football recruitment.
Generally viewed as either a tight end or defensive end in college, Harbor is one of the top uncommitted 2023 prospects in the country, with Maryland, Michigan and South Carolina among the top schools vying for his commitment. According to Rivals, he has 46 Division I scholarship offers.
Harbor said he briefly entertained the thought of turning pro in track but instead plans to both run and play football in college, with the NFL and a potential Olympic qualification in the back of his mind.
“My goal overall is to at least get to the Olympics and win a medal,” Harbor said. “A gold medal would be nice.”
Dual-sport athletes in football and track are hardly unusual, and several men have competed professionally in both. Renaldo Nehemiah, for instance, set a hurdles world record and played three years in the NFL. NFL wideout Marquise Goodwin competed at the 2012 Olympics in long jump. Devon Allen, another hurdler, has spent this season on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad after a fourth-place finish in Tokyo.
What separates Harbor from those two-sport phenoms, according to Archbishop Carroll track coach Rafiu Bakare, is his size.
With more than six months to go until his 18th birthday, Harbor is already about the same size as Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, but faster. (Metcalf, for reference, ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.)
“He makes his own category,” Bakare said of Harbor. “When it comes to the fast twitch and this size, he’s on his own. He’s on his own right now.”
Harbor figures he was 8 years old when he first took notice of his own unique athleticism, namely that he was just faster than everyone else around him. A growth spurt in eighth grade – from 5 feet 8 to 6 feet 2 – ensured that he would be taller than almost everyone else, too.
The son of Nigerian-American professional soccer player Azuka “Jean” Harbor, Nyckoles said competing in football and track – as well as the transition period between them – has always felt natural to him. His body is accustomed to shifting weights. During football season, he said he’ll bulk up to 230 or 235 pounds. By the end of track season, he might be as light as 220.
Over the years, Harbor’s coaches said they have seen various people try to nudge him toward one sport or another. But he’s never wanted to specialize, so instead, they help him find a balance – meeting regularly about scheduling and training, to avoid potential conflicts.
“I just laugh when people try to formulate their opinion and then make it reality, because this is not the guy you do that with,” Harris said. “Whatever he wants to do, I feel like he can accomplish.”
At Archbishop Carroll, he’s been a force in both sports.
As a sprinter, Harbor’s personal bests are in the same ballpark as the high-school times recorded by current Team USA athletes. The 100 is his preferred event, but he also ran an indoor 200-meter dash in 20.79 seconds earlier this year – without using starting blocks. (His PR in the 200 is 20.63.)
In football, meanwhile, he helped lead Archbishop Carroll to a rare Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Metro division title. In one game, Harbor caught five passes for 251 yards and three scores on offense. In another, the opposing team assigned three players to block him on defense.
Gorney, the Rivals recruiting director, said Harbor still has a lot of room to grow on the football field, but his measurables make it “almost a guarantee” that he could be in the mix as a first-round NFL draft pick.
“This is someone who, if he goes to the combine, is just going to set records,” Gorney said. “There’s just nothing to think that he wouldn’t. He’s going to blow people away.”
First up, though, is college. Harbor has spent the past month taking official visits to a handful of schools and does not plan to sign a national letter of intent during the early signing period, which starts Wednesday. “Feb. 1 is when everyone will know where I’m going,” he said.
While Harbor’s recruiting focus has been on football, he’s also looking at each school’s track program and coaches. Eventually, of course, something will have to give between the two sports. Gaining or losing weight to excel in one will begin to hurt Harbor in the other.
“At the end of the day, my body will tell me which way I need to go,” he said. “If going back and forth in weight is too much sometimes, then I’ll have to choose.
“Sooner or later, I’m going to have to choose.”
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.