As Nyckoles Harbor awaited the signal from the ESPN control room — so he could announce the most crucial decision of his young life — his father, Azuka, was amazed that his son’s smile and charisma had commanded the attention of the boisterous crowd in Archbishop Carroll’s gymnasium. Moments later, Nyckoles revealed that he would sign to play football at South Carolina.
Nyckoles Harbor, top football recruit, signs with South Carolina
Azuka “Jean” Harbor had witnessed his son turn on the charm for the camera many times, but Wednesday had a different feel. Before Nyckoles’s announcement, the former U.S. men’s national soccer team member saw an aspect of his superstar son that the public had no proof even existed: his self-doubting side.
Over the previous 48 hours, Nyckoles had nearly worn a hole in the floor of the family’s Prince George’s County home as the five-star recruit paced from room to room, weighing the pros and cons of each program.
“To see how stressed out my child was just yesterday to [now] being up there shaking hands and doing interviews with ESPN is hard to comprehend for me,” Azuka said. “How does my child go from refusing to sleep unless he’s laying on my chest [as a child] to making decisions that impact millions of people’s lives? All I can say is wow.”
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Harbor, the No. 19 recruit in the Class of 2023 per 247 Sports’ composite rankings, joined a South Carolina class ranked 16th in the nation. Since it hired Shane Beamer as its coach in December 2020, South Carolina has posted a pair of winning seasons and made recruiting the D.C. area a priority. The Gamecocks also signed defensive end Desmond Umeozulu (C.H. Flowers), offensive tackle Oluwatosin Babalade (DeMatha) and defensive back Zahbari Sandy (St. John’s) in this class.
A back-to-back D.C. Gatorade player of the year — in football and track and field — Harbor also considered Maryland, Oregon, Miami and Michigan.
“What it ultimately came down to, for me, was that it felt like family out there,” he said of South Carolina. “I had an opportunity to go almost anywhere, but I wanted to be at a place that felt like home. Coach Beamer and those guys have always gave me that feeling since my first visit. I feel like I’m the final piece to the puzzle out there.”
Azuka said the family went to sleep Tuesday night with the expectation that Nyckoles would sign with Maryland or Oregon. But on Wednesday, when Azuka returned home from work and saw his son standing in the driveway, he figured he had had a change of heart.
“As I walked out of the car, I just asked him, ‘What’s troubling your mind, son?’ ” Azuka recalled. “And he said, ‘Dad, I think South Carolina is where I need to be.’ I acted surprised, but all along I had a feeling that that was his favorite.”
Harbor’s commitment completed a whirlwind recruiting process that began in the spring of 2021. Then a little-known sophomore, he grabbed the attention of college coaches across the country when highlights from his first and only varsity game went viral. Facing Bishop O’Connell, Harbor had multiple sacks, caught a touchdown pass and blocked a punt.
His recruitment reached a fever pitch last spring when he ran a 10.28-second time in the 100-meter dash — despite being 6-foot-5 and weighing 235 pounds.
“It’s all such a blessing,” he said.
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His aspirations for his time at South Carolina are lofty. Harbor plans to play football and run track, with the goal of becoming a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and competing at the 2024 Paris Olympics. He made his name as a defensive end at Carroll, but the Gamecocks plan to use him in more of a wide receiver/tight end hybrid role.
“To be honest, there’s no real comparison to me because the world has never seen an athlete like me before,” Harbor said. “But if I had to choose, I’d say it’ll be something like a combination of Calvin Johnson and Kyle Pitts.”
This fall, Nyckoles earned first-team All-Met honors after recording 45 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. He also had 15 receptions and five touchdowns as a tight end. Harbor’s class leaves Carroll as one of the most successful in school history: It went 23-4, won the D.C. State Athletic Association title in 2021 and claimed the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Metro division championship in 2022.
“It’s been an honor to be the face of this program the last few years,” Harbor said. “But now it’s on to the next level. Tell the fans their new king has arrived.”