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Ask anyone close to Nyckoles Harbor II for athletes he should be compared to, and they’ll likely respond with a list that includes some of the most accomplished pro sports stars of all time: Usain Bolt. Deion Sanders. LeBron James. Even Bo Jackson, the first professional athlete in history to be an all-star in both the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
“He’s Bo Jackson,” says Rafiu Bakare, the head track and field coach at Archbishop Carroll High School. “That’s what I talk to my friends about: This is Bo … When he walks in the room, you know what it is. … There’s a presence that permeates the place.”
Bakare isn’t referring to an Olympian or NFL player, but rather a 16-year-old junior at Carroll. It may seem like over-the-top praise, but that’s how much potential Harbor’s coaches and supporters see in him as a track athlete, football player, and student. They envision a not-so-distant future where he is an Olympic medal contender in track and a top NFL prospect.
Harbor isn’t fazed by the comparisons and predictions. He welcomes it—especially after his most recent accomplishment. Last month at the Texas Tech Under Armour High School Classic track and field competition in Lubbock, Texas, Harbor ran the 200-meter dash in 20.79 seconds—a personal best and the fourth-fastest indoor 200-meter dash ever by a high schooler. His 100-meter personal best of 10.31 seconds is also an elite mark for runners his age.
“I’m a showman, so I like to give people a show,” Harbor says. “That’s what I do.”
And if everything goes to plan, this is just the beginning of Harbor’s journey to the grandest of sports stages. In addition to being one of the fastest high school sprinters in the country, Harbor is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound five-star football recruit with more than 40 college offers from programs like the University of Alabama and Clemson University. He intends to compete in both track and football in college, run at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, and then play in the NFL. Few professional athletes have ever excelled at both sports at the highest level.
“This kid is really an anomaly,” says Robert Harris, Carroll’s head football coach. “In 27 years of coaching some great players and guys that went on to play great Division I football and went on to the NFL, I’ve never seen or had an athlete like this before.”
Pamela Crockett immediately called her sister after track practice ended. She needed to tell her about the 8-year-old boy that had just joined the Full Speed Athletics youth track club, based out of Prince George’s County, that she coaches.
“He’s going to be incredible,” Crockett remembers telling her sister, Tracy, a former track and field standout at the University of Virginia. “He’s probably going to be the best sprinter to come from this area.”
It didn’t matter that Harbor had yet to run in a single competition. Crockett saw in him a natural talent and desire to improve that made her think, What am I witnessing?
Track wasn’t Harbor’s first sport, and he wasn’t even supposed to be in Crockett’s group. Born in D.C. and raised in Largo, Harbor first played football when his parents signed him up for a local summer camp at age 8. Whenever he scored a touchdown, Harbor would experience severe asthma, so his youth football coach for the Patuxent Rhinos suggested that he run track to improve his breathing. Harbor’s parents attempted to enroll their son in a track club at the same sports complex as the youth football team, but the roster was full and the club wasn’t accepting more kids. Harbor was devastated.
“That was the worst day of my life,” he says. “I was crying.”
But, by a stroke of fate, Harbor later ran into one of his friends from the football team who informed him about Crockett’s team. His parents gave the coach a call, and Harbor has been with Full Speed Athletics, a youth track club for kids ages 6 to 18, ever since.
Harbor also tried basketball and soccer as a young kid, but never gravitated toward either sport. “He couldn’t understand the concept that you’re supposed to pass the ball in basketball,” Harbor’s mother, Saundra Bobbitt-Harbor, says. His father, Azuka Jean Harbor, is a Nigerian American who competed for the U.S. men’s national soccer team and several professional clubs in the U.S. and Nigeria during a career that spanned multiple decades. It didn’t take long for Azuka to realize that his son would not be following in his footsteps.
“I looked at him, and I said, ‘You’re too tall. You can’t play no soccer,’” the 6-foot-1 Azuka says with a laugh. “That’s how that conversation went. I just looked at him; he doesn’t have the coordination.”
Azuka adds that while he takes plenty of pride in his son’s athletic accomplishments, he’s long emphasized an academics-first approach. “I always say to him, ‘I want other people to remember you as a good student,’” Azuka says. Nyckoles has taken that directive to heart. He has a 4.5 grade point average at Carroll and has dreams of becoming a nurse and eventually attending medical school.
Harbor’s determination in any field is something that his coaches have noticed. He was not a starter on the varsity football team his freshman year at Carroll, but has, within two seasons, established himself as one of the best football players in the area. Harbor plays tight end, receiver, outside linebacker, and defensive end, and also competes on special teams. “We may hand him the ball out of the backfield next year,” Harris, the football coach, says.
Harris describes Harbor as a “fierce competitor” who doesn’t like to lose. “He is his biggest critic, and pushes himself,” he says. There are times, Harris recalls, when Harbor will get upset with himself if he doesn’t complete a tackle the way he wants. It’s the same energy he brings to the classroom. “He doesn’t want a B-plus,” Harris says. Crockett can attest. She says that Harbor will voluntarily repeat a repetition during a track workout if he doesn’t hit the prescribed time.
Asked where, at 16, he gets his ambition and motivation, Harbor laughs and says: “I hang around a lot of old heads, a lot of old people. I sit in the garage with my uncles and they talk, drink beers. They give me sodas. We just talking … and having a good time watching football … And they just basically tell me they’re proud and they just want me to do all this. They want me to live my dream.”
That dream involves not just the NFL, but Olympic track as well. Harbor loves both sports and doesn’t think it makes sense to limit himself to just one. Plus, he says, being busy keeps him out of trouble—or even the perception of trouble. There can be consequences, Harbor believes, when that’s not the case.
“With my athletic ability, I’m blessed to do two sports at a very high level,” he says. “So with me doing both, it just makes it better for me and my family, because I’m always into something … I’m not out in the streets … I can keep myself occupied.”
Harbor’s deep, gravelly voice belies his young age and playful nature. The sun has set and the track at Carroll is barely visible by the time practice is over on a recent January evening. The team is preparing for the Millrose Games at the Armory in New York City, and the runners get ready to head inside the school away from the freezing temperatures, when Harbor jumps on the back of Carroll’s assistant track and field coach, Victor Blackett, for a piggyback ride.
Blackett carries Harbor—all 6-foot-6 and 220-pounds of him—around, before the two get into a debate of who is taller. (“If he’s 6-6, then I’m 6-6 and 1/8th,” Blackett says.)
The word “generation” comes up often in conversations about Harbor. Crockett says that he “has the ability to be one of those true once in multiple generation athletes.” Bakare calls Harbor “one of those one-in-a-million kids” for his athletic skills and academic achievements. Harris, a former math teacher, puts the probability of him being a professional athlete in track, football, or both at “99.998 percent.”
But Harbor is still a kid in many ways. After running a 20.79-second 200 meters at Texas Tech, he says “about 30 people” came up to him for photos and selfies. It was a new experience, and he didn’t sign any autographs because, well, he doesn’t have one yet. “I gotta learn that,” he says. Although he is considered a celebrity on campus, he doesn’t see himself that way. “He’ll walk in a room and light it up, but he makes everyone comfortable,” Harris says.
So perhaps, with so much ahead, the best comparison for Harbor right now is simply himself.
“It sets a ceiling sometimes, when you make comparisons,” Blackett says. “If we create our own lane and create our own tower, the stars become our limit versus what did such-and-such do? And then you’re trying to match what that person did. So if I had to compare him to anyone, I’ll compare him to the next Nyckoles Harbor, so he can set his own ceiling.”