Nyckoles Harbor, a rare talent and viral sensation, runs to the attention


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During a trip to Southern California for a track meet in April, Archbishop Carroll’s Nyckoles Harbor asked a hotel cashier if he could get a discount on an overpriced bag of candy. When she declined, Harbor flashed a smile and countered: “You can’t make it, like, three dollars? I’m a national track athlete — number one in the country.”

The incredulous cashier asked for his name, searched it on her phone and moments later provided gratis gummies — a scene captured in a YouTube docuseries titled “I AM: Nyckoles Harbor.”

Being a 6-foot-6, 245-pound teenager who can run 100 meters in 10.28 seconds (as he did that week in April outside Los Angeles) has its perks. It also makes Harbor a magnet for attention, and the 16-year-old — who will compete at New Balance Nationals this week in Philadelphia — is learning how to navigate his newfound fame.

“I don’t like to look at it as pressure because I expected this to happen,” Harbor said. “I just got to be humble and make sure that I’m getting better and better each day. … I’m a showman, so I want to do everything I can to put on for the people, put on for myself and make everybody proud.”

Back on Carroll’s campus, the junior’s presence is massive. As he strolls through the halls, classmates whisper to one another when they catch a glimpse of him. At practice, teammates congregate on the metal bleachers and debate whether it’s speed or power that makes Harbor so great.

Highlights of Harbor’s swift 100-meter dashes have gone viral — shared by Bleacher Report and ESPN — in large part because he’s also a defensive lineman, a top-20 football recruit in the Class of 2023. He has attracted more than 15,000 new Instagram followers this year and was the subject of that 46-minute YouTube special.

While he occasionally cashes in on his pseudo-celebrity, he has developed the proper perspective, those close to him say.

“Got to let him taste the celebrity stuff from time to time because he’s a kid and he’s earned it, but we also have to help him understand that his goals are bigger than being a viral splash in the pan — which he does understand,” Carroll track and field coach Rafiu Bakare said. “He doesn’t shy away from the work.”

“Clips can make you look cocky, but that’s not what he is,” Carroll football coach Rob Harris said. “He realizes that he is an elite athlete and has the potential to do some special things that haven’t been seen before. Being confident and allowing yourself to embrace the expectations and not run from those things is inspiring.”

Harris also knows life wasn’t always this sweet for Harbor.

A few years ago, Harbor was an uncoordinated kid with imperfections: asthma, a bowlegged gait and a lazy eye. Few foresaw him being the athlete he is today, including his father.

A former forward for the U.S. men’s national soccer team, Azuka “Jean” Harbor was routinely asked whether his son would follow in his footsteps. But Jean knew soccer wasn’t for Nyckoles.

“I wasn’t expecting Nyckoles to get this far,” Jean said, remembering early days when his son tried out the sport. “He doesn’t have the coordination. He’s just tall.”

Because his parents didn’t want him to spend his elementary school days at home on the couch, they took him, at the advice of a summer camp coach, to Full Speed Athletics in Prince George’s County, almost as a means of child care.

The skills he learned there helped him with his asthma and paved the way for him to become one of the most sought-after middle school athletes in the area. Powerhouses St. John’s and DeMatha pushed for Harbor before he chose Carroll.

“He’s one of those phenom guys,” said Bakare, who has coached many Division I athletes, including some professionals.

Harbor’s fastest 100-meter time this year ranks 20th nationally, 0.2 seconds behind the leader.

While clips of Harbor on the track brought him recent internet fame, his first football highlights served as an introduction to the gawking.

After spending his freshman football season as a reserve, Harbor made his varsity debut during the spring of his sophomore year. Despite playing just one game, Harbor put on a show against O’Connell, captured in a Hudl video in which he catches touchdown passes, blocks a punt and sacks the quarterback.

During his junior year, his first full season as a starter, Harbor had 31 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, six forced fumbles, two blocked punts and five touchdown catches.

“I call him Bo Jackson to my friends because that’s the kind of talent I’m looking at,” Bakare said. “He’s a generational kind of kid.”

But that level of talent comes with a price. Everything he does is being scrutinized, and many have an opinion on what he should do next. As a top athlete in two sports, Harbor, who also boasts a grade-point average over 4.0, is facing pressure to pick between football and track.

An area track coach who spoke on the condition of anonymity believes Harbor is a track athlete who happens to play football. He said Harbor should go pro in track or go to college and focus solely on that sport. The way he sees it, trying to play football would detract from his Olympic aspirations.

“In high school, the best athletes can dominate and do it all even without devoting their entire self,” the coach said. “But it’s way different when you are competing against dudes that are competing to put food on their family’s table each night. You can’t be a part-timer at the next levels.”

Harbor remains adamant he can do both. In his world, not only will he play both sports in college, but he also will study to become a neurosurgeon.

Harbor can look to his father for inspiration. A player for Team USA and professional teams such as the Washington Diplomats, Jean also worked as a biochemist for NASA.

“I don’t see a reason why I can’t … be the number one pick in the NFL draft and then train in the offseason for the Olympics and do that, too,” Harbor said. “Obviously it is going to be hard. A lot of people say that I’m the most talented person that they’ve ever seen, so why can’t I be the first to do this?”


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