NFL dimension, Olympic velocity: Michigan amongst prime suitors for phenom Nyckoles Harbor

At Butch Woolfolk’s house in Houston, the plaques he earned for operating monitor and enjoying soccer at Michigan sit facet by facet. The awards commemorate a stretch within the early Eighties when Woolfolk, now 62, earned All-American honors in each sports activities. Many years later, he’s nonetheless the final Wolverine to perform that feat.

On the gridiron, the place Woolfolk starred at operating again for coach Bo Schembechler, he completed as this system’s main rusher with 3,861 yards earlier than the New York Giants chosen him within the first spherical of the 1982 NFL draft. On the monitor, the place Woolfolk was probably the most adorned highschool sprinters within the nation, he gained a handful of Huge Ten titles and completed sixth nationally within the 200-meter sprint in 1980.

However tucked away in a photograph album is a newspaper clipping meaning extra to Woolfolk than any award in his assortment. The article recaps his efficiency on the Worldwide Prep Invitational monitor meet in 1978 when Woolfolk captured the 100- and 200-meter titles after operating the “fastest schoolboy times in the nation,” in keeping with his biography on the Westfield Corridor of Fame in New Jersey.

Butch Woolfolk drew acclaim as a highschool sprinter whereas additionally signing to play soccer at Michigan. (Photograph courtesy of Butch Woolfolk)

“And it’s the last time I’ve ever seen myself as the best that there was,” Woolfolk stated in an interview with FOX Sports activities. He added: “I look at that occasionally and I always say, ‘What if?’”

As in, what if Woolfolk may have devoted extra time to attaining his dream of qualifying for the 1980 Olympics? What if the 2 sports activities he competed in at Michigan didn’t have such conflicting calls for? What if he discovered an equilibrium in his athletic pursuits?

Woolfolk stays among the many most profitable soccer gamers to double-dip in monitor for the Wolverines, a listing that features Braylon Edwards, Denard Robinson, Tyrone Wheatley, Desmond Howard, Harlan Huckleby and Thomas Wilcher, amongst others. However nearly all of them had been confronted with the truth that soccer in Ann Arbor is king, that the game offering their scholarship will dictate the schedule, that becoming a member of the monitor and discipline staff is amenable for athletes eager to scratch a aggressive itch however proved untenable for anybody craving an excellent partnership — particularly if reaching the NFL is a main purpose.

Conversations about somebody bucking that pattern have intensified throughout Michigan’s recruitment of Nyckoles Harbor, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound wunderkind from Archbishop Carroll Excessive College in Washington, D.C., the place his coaches have described him as a generational expertise akin to the nice Bo Jackson. Simply 17 years outdated, Harbor is concurrently a five-star prospect on both facet of the ball and one of many quickest sprinters within the nation with private bests of 10.22 seconds within the 100-meter sprint and 20.63 seconds within the 200-meter sprint. Each marks rank among the many prime 12 occasions for top schoolers this 12 months.

Harbor intends to pursue each sports activities in faculty and would face comparable obstacles wherever he commits. He’s rated the No. 16 total participant within the 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2023 recruiting class. He stays essentially the most coveted prospect on head coach Jim Harbaugh’s board regardless of suspending his dedication to the February signing interval, at which level Michigan, South Carolina, LSU, Maryland and Miami are among the many colleges hoping to land an athlete uniquely positioned to reply the what ifs.

“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 advised The Washington Submit earlier this 12 months (He didn’t reply to interview requests for this story). “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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A single YouTube seek for Harbor’s title elicits a fascination together with his athletic presents. The movies have titles like No HS Soccer Participant this dimension has ever finished this! and THE SCARIEST RECRUIT IN 2023!, with a whole bunch of 1000’s of mixed views and commenters that describe him as every little thing from the primary particular person deserving of a six-star rating, to an escapee from some authorities lab in close by Langley, Virginia, house of the CIA.

It’s tough to contextualize a teen who’s so massive and so quick. 

“Nyckoles Harbor has the fastest max speed on record for any athlete taller than 6-2,” stated a tweet from the sports activities expertise and information firm Recruiting Analytics, “with a verified max speed of 22.1 mph.”

Debates proceed to rage about Harbor’s finest place on the subsequent degree. Some envision him as a defensive finish or exterior linebacker careening off the sting with the type of drive that torments offensive tackles and terrifies quarterbacks. (Harbor racked up 22½ sacks and 47½ tackles for loss in his junior and senior seasons at Archbishop Carroll.) Others see a field-tilting offensive weapon who blends a good finish’s dimension with straight-line velocity akin to Kansas Metropolis Chiefs huge receiver Tyreek Hill, who ran a private better of 10.19 seconds within the 100-meter sprint at Backyard Metropolis Group School. (Harbor caught 31 passes for 729 yards and 10 touchdowns within the final two years mixed.)

Sources acquainted with Michigan’s recruitment of Harbor stated the teaching workers initially considered him as an edge rusher who could be given possibilities to contribute on offense. However Harbor’s private choice is believed to be offense, the place the bodily calls for and snap counts aren’t as taxing — particularly at huge receiver — and there could be much less strain so as to add the type of bulk that may hinder his improvement on the monitor. Early recruiting overtures from defensive position coach Mike Elston and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter have been swapped for efforts by huge receivers coach Mike Bellamy, who’s now the lead recruiter, and Harbaugh.

“If I’m him,” stated Edwards, the No. 3 total choose within the 2005 NFL draft who spent one 12 months on the monitor and discipline staff, throughout an interview with FOX Sports activities, “I gotta ask myself a question: Do I wanna go to the NFL, or do I want to seriously have this dream of football and track? If I want to seriously have this dream of football and track, you gotta play wide receiver. If you want to go to the NFL, you’ve gotta play tight end or defensive end.”

There are pure ties connecting Harbor with Michigan that type the bedrock of his reference to the Wolverines. The athletic director at Archbishop Carroll is Brian Ellerbe, who was the lads’s basketball coach at Michigan from 1997-2001. One in every of Harbor’s personal monitor coaches, Pamela Crockett, is a Michigan alumna. A former teammate of Harbor’s, Ziyah Holman, now runs for the ladies’s monitor and discipline staff at Michigan. Harbor’s dad and mom, Azuka “Jean” Harbor and Saundra Harbor, have positioned a heavy significance on the academic facet of faculty given their profession experiences as a former biochemist for NASA and a pharmacist, respectively. (Saundra Harbor reportedly grew up in Michigan as nicely.) 

Nyckoles Harbor believes he’s able to being the No. 1 choose within the NFL Draft and competing within the Olympics. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Submit by way of Getty Photographs)

Harbor and his mom took an unofficial go to to Ann Arbor within the fall of 2021 and returned with Harbor’s father, an ex-forward on the U.S. males’s nationwide soccer staff, for an official go to that coincided with Michigan’s win over Maryland in late September. The preparations for every journey mirrored the duality of Harbor’s athletic pursuits, because the soccer and monitor applications labored collectively in a joint recruiting effort. Harbor’s de facto host for the official go to was Robinson, who ran one 12 months of indoor monitor earlier than growing into an All-American quarterback. When Harbor posed for images at Michigan’s monitor and discipline complicated, staffers from each groups had been there to look at. 

A stunning indoor monitor facility has turn into an necessary software for Michigan when recruiting athletes like Harbor who’re additionally contemplating colleges in hotter climates. The constructing, which is situated on the college’s south campus, was a part of an formidable $168 million renovation to enhance the assets for Olympic sports activities. Concepts for the indoor monitor and discipline middle, which opened in 2018, had been gleaned from each home and worldwide arenas to supply customized options like a hydraulic, banked 200-meter competitors monitor surrounded by a 300-meter apply monitor, with extra dash lanes and soar runways throughout the infield. 

The climate-controlled construction affords a cushty coaching surroundings to offset Ann Arbor’s common snowfall of 43 inches per 12 months. 

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, I can only do certain things in a certain climate or a certain location,’” stated Steven Rajewsky, an assistant monitor coach at Michigan, throughout an interview with FOX Sports activities. “But I think there’s enough schools like Michigan that show you can do it and it has been done.”

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Seven weeks earlier than reporting to Michigan, Robinson savored what he thought was the capstone to his monitor and discipline profession for Deerfield Seashore Excessive College on the 2008 Florida 4A State Championships. He completed third within the 100-meter sprint and ran anchor for a 4×100-meter relay staff that posted a season-best time of 41.37 seconds to snag first place.

From that time ahead, Robinson, a four-star recruit, meant to give attention to soccer for the Wolverines. Operating collegiately by no means crossed his thoughts till then-Michigan monitor and discipline coach Fred LaPlante dropped by a soccer apply and inspired Robinson to attempt each sports activities. After a number of nudges, Robinson requested head coach Wealthy Rodriguez for permission to hitch the indoor monitor staff after soccer season.

“If Denard wanted to do it,” Rodriguez stated in an interview with FOX Sports activities, “I was all for it.”

The one stipulation was that Robinson nonetheless needed to take part within the soccer staff’s winter exercises — a decree levied by each coach whose dual-sport athletes commented for this story, from Schembechler (1969-89) to Lloyd Carr (1995-2007) to Rodriguez (2008-10). And that meant Robinson’s schedule regarded one thing like this: every day 5 a.m. wake-up requires soccer power and conditioning; educational lessons all through the morning; monitor and discipline practices round noon; late-afternoon rehab periods within the soccer coaching room; examine hours within the educational middle every night.

“I was 18 years old,” Robinson stated throughout an interview with FOX Sports activities, “so I could go all day.” 

Fatigue and scheduling challenges proved much less problematic for Robinson and different former Wolverines than the ubiquity and suction soccer had on their lives. Winter exercises and spring practices gave their main sport a year-round really feel, and the fixed push so as to add muscle mass every offseason reduce towards the way in which Michigan’s monitor and discipline athletes skilled. They had been pressured to take care of cumbersome physiques for soccer slightly than reworking into lithely-built sprinters. 

Denard Robinson set monitor apart to enhance his odds of successful the beginning quarterback job at Michigan. (Photograph by Leon Halip/Getty Photographs)

Most of them reached some extent the place selecting between soccer and monitor turned inevitable, and there was by no means a lot doubt which sport would win: 

— Robinson, who recalled Rodriguez bringing recruits to a few of his Michigan monitor meets, remembers needing to be massaged and stretched within the staff lodge previous to the Huge Ten Indoor Monitor and Discipline Championships in 2010 after a few of the most arduous soccer exercises of the offseason earlier that week. “I felt like they kind of did me dirty,” Robinson stated. He completed one spot shy of the 60-meter finals and spurned the possibility to run out of doors monitor to enhance his odds of successful the beginning quarterback job in spring soccer.

“A different position and you can be in both sports,” Robinson stated. “I mean, RGIII did it (former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III). But his (track) coach had worked out a deal even before he got there. I didn’t have that same luxury with me running track.”

— Woolfolk, who stated Schembechler promised he may skip spring apply to pursue Olympic qualification, grew dissatisfied and heartbroken when soccer attendance proved obligatory. He nonetheless superior to the Olympic trials for the 200-meter sprint however remembers getting “my doors blown off by guys that I had beaten in high school that were now on top because they strictly paid attention to track.” Moderately than argue with Schembechler, Woolfolk performed 4 years of spring soccer along with operating monitor for coach Jack Harvey. The bodily toll of soccer diminished his velocity and curiosity within the sport he beloved most. Woolfolk redirected his consideration towards a possible profession within the NFL as an alternative.

“Coach Harvey was intimidated by Bo,” Woolfolk stated. “In fact, the couple times I would leave spring ball to go over there and practice, he would say, ‘Are you OK? Don’t let Bo catch you over here,’ like he would get in trouble. It was something that Bo really controlled. He owned everything and he knew where I was.”

“I have not come to peace with it,” Woolfolk added. “I agonize over it all the time.”

Butch Woolfolk believes he may have competed within the Olympics if he had been in a position to give monitor sufficient consideration. “I have not come to peace with it,” he stated. (Photographs courtesy of Butch Woolfolk)

— Edwards, who requested about competing in each sports activities throughout his recruitment, stated Carr was amenable if soccer tasks had been correctly dealt with. “There’s always an if,” Edwards stated. A sprinter and excessive jumper, Edwards stated he conditioned himself to view monitor and discipline as a vessel by way of which he may turn into a greater soccer participant. That was the rationalization Edwards wanted when discrepancies in coaching made it tough to handle his weight. Carr nixed the multi-sport association after Edwards’ freshman season. 

“If you’re giving a kid a scholarship,” Edwards stated, “you want to see that kid. You want to see that kid in the training room. You want to see him in the weight room. You want to see him watching film. You want to see him just walking around with his teammates. 

“So I believe that was the toughest half is gamers not seeing me and being like, ‘Ah, man, he gets special privileges?’ And I believe the coaches had been (like), ‘Is he taking football serious? Is he still knowing his playbook? Is he getting ready for next season?’

“Those were the two hardest parts is weight fluctuation and not being around the facility for coaches to see you daily.”

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Final June, lengthy after his staff accomplished spring apply, Harbaugh spoke with reporters at a recruiting occasion in Huge Rapids, Michigan. 

Harbaugh was requested about the one participant on his roster nonetheless competing nicely previous the semester’s finish: linebacker Joey Velazquez, whose moonlighting on the Michigan baseball staff produced some clutch hitting to assist the Wolverines’ postseason run.

“You know my love of multiple sports, guys that play multiple sports,” Harbaugh stated as a smile stretched throughout his face.

There’s little query Harbaugh would help Harbor’s dual-sport ambition if the phenom commits to Michigan. Along with his adulation for Velazquez, who performs largely particular groups, Harbaugh routinely mentions how impressed he was with quarterback J.J. McCarthy’s hockey background whereas preaching the significance of youthful athletes sharpening their abilities throughout a number of disciplines. And in Harbor’s case, the outlandish expertise of the participant in query probably warrants better latitude than earlier soccer coaches had been prepared to supply. 

“I don’t know how good I could have been,” Butch Woolfolk says. Can or not it’s completely different for Nyckoles Harbor? (Photograph courtesy of Butch Woolfolk)

Many of the Michigan soccer gamers who ran monitor lacked the Olympic potential many consider Harbor possesses, although Woolfolk was clearly an exception to that rule. Harbor’s time of 10.22 seconds within the 100-meter sprint would have produced a ninth-place end on the 2022 NCAA Championships, and his 200-meter time of 20.63 seconds would have been ok for eighth. Even with out accounting for race situations, the extrapolations are staggering for a teen who ran these occasions earlier than his senior 12 months of highschool. 

“Olympic speed and he has prototypical NFL size,” stated Edwards, who, like Robinson, loved being a part of the monitor program regardless of the brevity and challenges of their respective experiences. “I think he’s in a class of his own and I think this is a different day and age.”

So what if?

What if Harbor finds a method to dominate the soccer discipline with out sacrificing the potential he’s proven on the monitor? What if he balances the power and energy of a game-changing tight finish with the explosiveness of an elite sprinter? What if Harbor goes to Michigan and does what his predecessors by no means may?

“That question will always be there,” Woolfolk stated. “The burning sensation that’s inside of me is I don’t know how good I could have been.”

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Michael Cohen covers faculty soccer and basketball for FOX Sports activities with an emphasis on the Huge Ten. Observe him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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