"He's always been focused when it's track season. When it's track season, it's been track season. Now this year, football season."
By Logan Stanley - MileSplit Correspondent
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The future for Archbishop Carroll junior Nyckoles Harbor is undeniably bright. But just where, and in what sport, that future holds is still in question.
Not only is Harbor one of the fastest sprinters in the nation with a lifetime personal best of 10.31 seconds in the 100m as a sophomore, but the 16-year-old from Washington D.C. is also a five-star football recruit who has accumulated over 30 scholarship offers.
So the question is, football or track?
Well for right now, it's both. And the present is what Harbor is focused on.
With official visits coming up soon and a seemingly never ending list of football coaches yearning to speak to him, life is about to get a lot more hectic for Harbor. Yet, he is taking it all in stride -- literally -- as he's living in the moment. This weekend, he's headed to The VA Showcase, where he is scheduled to run in the 55m, 60m, 300m and 4x200m.
It also helps to have two family members who are professional athletes.
Azuka Harbor, Nyckoles' father, was a professional soccer player in Nigeria and in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. Averyl Ugba, the older brother of Nyckoles, currently plays professional basketball in France for Andrézieux. Those two figures have been guiding lights for Nyckoles as it became apparent he was on a trajectory toward stardom.
Saundra, Nyckoles' mother, handles all the incoming communication from the vast array of universities pursuing her son's athletic and academic prowess.
"I balance it really well," Harbor said. "I was prepared for this since I was young. My coaches and my dad, everybody told me, 'This is what is going to happen. You just got to be ready for it and start preparing for it at your age.'
"I just enjoy the process and have fun with it. I'm enjoying being a 16-year-old kid, having fun, going to school, being a five-star athlete, being one of the top runners in the nation -- it's all fun and games. I really don't stress about it. If you keep stressing, worrying about what's going to happen, then your play is going to diminish. You want to keep a good, healthy mind so that your play and your running can stay at the top."
Alongside Harbor's close-knit family are his two track and field coaches, Rafiu Bakare and Victor Blackett, who are ever present in Nyckoles' life.
"He's [Bakare] really like a nice uncle for me," Harbor said. "We've built a close bond. He knows what I'm capable of and he wants to keep me on that path. I say that about my other coach too, Victor Blackett. I'm with my coaches 24/7. Coach Vic, he's taught me a lot of life lessons. He's always making sure I'm on top of my athletic training, making sure I'm on the right track."
This combination of a unique calmness, usually seen from seasoned athletes, and a deep support system of family and coaches is what allows for Harbor to balance being a prodigious talent on the track as his football stock continues to skyrocket -- all while maintaining a 4.3 GPA.
Bakare first met Harbor when the latter was 11 years old in club track. It was a few years later, when Harbor was in eighth grade, that Bakare first got to work with what would become one of his top sprinters. Bakare, the track and field coach at Archbishop Carroll, was actually the one who mentioned Harbor's name to the school's football coach, Robert Harris.
This open relationship between the pair of coaches is a key pillar in managing Harbor's development. Instead of it being contentious, the two respect one another and give space for each sport.
"He's always been focused when it's track season," Bakare said. "When it's track season, it's been track season. Now this year, football season, he had a full season. We spoke about it actually at the end of the [2021 outdoor] season when we were finishing up nationals, telling him, 'You know, you're going to take your break. When you come back, you're going to be at football. I'm going to be available, talk to me about anything you want to talk me about when it comes to your body, making sure you're healthy.'"
"But when you're talking to your football coaches, they've got you on the football field. Now I'm a teacher at the school so I see him all the time, and we check-in weekly during football season to see how he is, where he is, what he thinks he's going to have to work on some more when we get back to practice -- all those things. So he's focused on football when the season is going on. But when it's time to transition, it's just straight track."
Bakare knows what's at stake with Harbor.
"I just enjoy the process and have fun with it. I'm enjoying being a 16-year-old kid, having fun, going to school, being a five-star athlete, being one of the top runners in the nation -- it's all fun and games.
The speed is historic. Harbor's wind-legal 10.31 in the 100m, according to World Athletics, was the fourth-best U18 time last year in the world, behind Olympic 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton (10.16) and Jordan Anthony (10.21). He's the third-fastest fastest returning sprinter in the 100m in the United States at the high school level for the 2022 season -- Knighton and Jaylen Slade, for reference, both turned pro last year.
And there is still a lot of work to do in terms of refining the technical aspects of Harbor's mechanics. For all his early successes, breaking 10.30 and 21 seconds in the 100m and 200m, respectively, will be crucial milestone markers toward the end of his high school career.
Of course, there is the elephant in the room when it comes to making the decision about his future, too: What will ultimately lure him years from now? Professional track or professional football? Will financial incentives make a difference?
The long-term earnings potential for football are far greater than track and field. The median NFL salary is about $860,000 (excluding signing bonuses), while that same figure would be considered on the high end for a professional track athlete. Three years ago, Anthony Schwartz -- once the No. 1 U18 sprinter in the world -- chose to sign with Auburn, primarily as a football player, and is now in the NFL. He ran just eight times at the NCAA level for the Tigers.
Money isn't a factor for Harbor, though. He's keenly aware of the discrepancy between the two sports. He says his thoughts go back to when he was a kid, and the reason why he got into athletics.
For the love of the game.
"I really don't think about sports with the money," Harbor said. "I've been playing since I was young. Sports is for fun, you know. The money will come. I wouldn't really care about the money. I just play the sport just to play the sport. I believe that whatever sport I love the most, at that point in time, is what I'm going to go with. Since track, you know, you most likely will make less money, but I'd be fine with that if I really truly love that sport more than football."
So the plan, at the moment, is to be a dual-sport athlete at the collegiate level.
The strength of the track and field program will be a factor in Harbor's decision-making.
But, if the junior hits his goals for this upcoming track season, the process of finalizing a decision may be sped up as shoe companies and agents could be knocking on Harbor's front door. Just as they did for Knighton and Slade.
Harbor has set his sights on some truly eye-opening marks.
"Since I ran 10.31 at 15 (years old) two days before my birthday, I'll try to go 10 flat or 9.9 at 16, you know, try to be a little better than Erriyon [Knighton] and Jayden Slade -- be the next one up. So just like a great season, 9.9. Then [hoping for] 20.3 at the best."