Five-star Nyckoles Harbor still raving about choice for South Carolina

·7 min read

South Carolina signee Nyckoles Harbor has an ease in his voice as he peels out of the parking lot following a practice run for his graduation from Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C.

There’s a clear distinction in the way Harbor, a five-star recruit and the consensus No. 1 athlete in the 2023 class, talks on this weekday in late May. The anxiety and pressure that came with making a college decision three-plus months back has dissipated. He’s cheerful and confident. His answers to a slew of questions ranging from preparing to play receiver full-time to his potential marketability as a dual-sport star feel more befitting of a man twice his age.

Yet there’s still a boyish charm to Harbor, whose muscular build and freakish speed suggest anything but.

“It’s crazy how everything has transpired,” he told The State this week, an excitement building in his voice. “Like, I’m going to college now.”

Frankly, there’s nothing normal about what Harbor can do on a track or football field. He’s among the top 1% of the top 1% of athletes on the planet. He casually suggests it’s “going to be really difficult” to balance possibly running in the 2024 Olympics in Paris and the lead-up to what would be his second college football season in Columbia given the dates could overlap. Relatable, right?

That athletic ability and astounding maturity are what make Harbor one of the most fascinating prospects to hit college football this side of Jadeveon Clowney. He’s a five-star football player whose aspirations of running in the Olympics are legitimate. There’s a reason most every program in America chased after him.

The only person who could keep pace and land him? Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer.

“It resonates not just here in South Carolina, but across the country,” Beamer said shortly after Harbor’s commitment on Feb. 1. “It’s great publicity. (There’s) so much positivity and energy out there about South Carolina football right now. ... I don’t think you can put it into words.”

Five-star recruit Nyckoles Harborat watches the Gamecocks’ game against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Five-star recruit Nyckoles Harborat watches the Gamecocks’ game against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

How South Carolina landed Nyckoles Harbor

Harbor’s recruitment was a semi-slow burn by national prospect standards. He arrived at Archbishop Carroll more as a developmental prospect than surefire talent. The athleticism, though, shone through.

It’s why when Beamer visited the school while recruiting eventual Oklahoma standout Anton Harrison during his time as a Sooner assistant, head coach Robert Harris suggested he might need to keep an eye on a freshman coming into his own.

“They say speed kills,” Harris told The State in February. “A great time in the 100 meter in high school is 10.8, 10.7 (seconds). He’s running 10.2. That time span of space is so different that if somebody can’t see that, something’s wrong.”

Fast-forward a year-plus and Beamer had shifted from a Lincoln Riley consigliere to the head coach at South Carolina. Harbor, who’d evolved into a full-blown five-star, was among the first prospects he connected with upon landing the job.

A visit to Columbia in June 2021 followed. Harbor had spent the morning at Clemson before trekking south. Arriving at the Long Family Football Operations Center, there was a single man out in front waiting to greet him.

“This is how I knew this place was special,” Harbor implored. “The first person I saw at South Carolina was a little, short man. He’s just standing there by himself outside. I’m like, ‘Who is this?’ Coach Rob tells me, ‘That’s the head coach.’ I’m like, ‘You’re lying.’ You normally see the assistants and everybody and then you see the the head coach later. But the very first person I saw at South Carolina was coach Shane Beamer.

“... That told me something later on when I thought about it. This man really went out of his way to be the first person I saw at his university. I was like, ‘If he’s putting in that type of effort, then you really got to look into the school and the staff and everybody to see what’s really going on.’ Because if he can do that, then that means I’m really special to him and he really wants me.”

Harbor’s final decision centered on South Carolina and Oregon — though Maryland, Michigan and Miami (Fla.) were also finalists. The allure of Nike resources and marketability as a track and football athlete in Eugene had their perks. The Ducks, too, were in the midst of a 10-3 campaign under first-year head coach Dan Lanning.

Around 3 a.m. on Feb. 1, only 10 hours before he was set to announce his decision live on ESPN, Harbor shot Beamer a text. What it actually said remains confidential, but it doesn’t take a sleuth to sort out that it likely suggested Columbia wasn’t going to be Harbor’s landing spot.

At least until later that day.

Standing behind a microphone at center court of the George H. Leftwich Gymnasium at Archbishop Carroll with a pair of AirPods nestled in his ear, Harbor slipped a white ball cap out of his backpack and announced his commitment to South Carolina.

“I think people were very shocked that I picked South Carolina,” he conceded this week. “It was definitely an attention grabber.

“I was like, ‘You see ladies and gentlemen — not everybody goes to Alabama.’ ”

Nyckoles Harbor announced Wednesday that he was signing with South Carolina.
Nyckoles Harbor announced Wednesday that he was signing with South Carolina.

Preparing for a football and track career in Columbia

Harbor has been able to relax in recent months — or as much as one in his position can. He’s still running for the Archbishop Carroll track team, posting a 10.41-second 100 meter dash at the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships last weekend (a time that would’ve qualified him for the first round of heats at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last year).

The stress of making a decision between finalists South Carolina and Oregon has dissipated. Harbor quips he’s happy not to have to answer constant calls from recruiting sites gauging his temperature on different schools.

The plan is for Harbor to head to South Carolina from Washington, D.C., on June 9. He jokes he’s not quite sure how his parents will take to being empty-nesters or if his bedroom will be converted into guest quarters.

In the meantime, Harbor is doing offseason work in preparation for his transition to receiver at the college level. The Gamecocks return Antwane “Juice” Wells, but still must replace five of their six top pass catchers from a year ago. That means there are snaps to be had.

Beamer explained last week the two months between when Harbor arrives and the season opener against North Carolina in Charlotte on Sept. 2 offers a nice segue into learning the finer points of the position and fine-tuning Harbor’s all-world athleticism into functionality at receiver.

“We’re fortunate that he did that a little bit in high school (as a tight end),” Beamer said. “It’s not like he’s never caught the ball, or ran a route or played receiver before. He’s got a baseline from that standpoint. He’s got, obviously, great athletic ability and instincts, so that helps. That’s what you can’t coach.”

Added Harbor: “(I’m) just trying to go be the best receiver in the country.”

Positional adjustments aside, Harbor remains confident about his prospects at USC, where he’ll also run track — though the logistics of that are still being ironed out. Shortly before ending his 36-minute phone call, he launched into a brief anecdote about his official visit weekend in September 2022 and watching Georgia thump South Carolina 48-7.

Harbor and four-star linebacker signee Grayson “Pup” Howard, who sat next to Harbor during the Georgia game, chatted about the result months later.

“Yeah, I expected the game to be a little bit closer, but you don’t get everything you wish for,” Harbor said, chuckling. “But as me and Grayson said, ‘We’re what? Seven touchdowns away from winning a national championship? Now we’ve got to bring it down to two, to one ...‘“

He paused.

“Man, let me stop saying that,” Harbor continued. “We’re trying to beat Georgia this year. We’re trying to beat everybody. Even though we might not beat everybody, we’re damn sure trying.”