South Carolina Football: Realistic expectations for 5-star Nyck Harbor this fall

South Carolina football signee Nyckoles Harbor is among the fastest players in the nation. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY
South Carolina football signee Nyckoles Harbor is among the fastest players in the nation. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY /

On Signing Day, South Carolina football made headlines when the top-ranked athlete in the country Nyckoles Harbor picked the Gamecocks over Oregon on national television.

The 5-star prospect is, quite literally, a one-of-a-kind player as he is 6’5″ and 230 pounds yet possesses Olympic-level sprint speed. Essentially, Harbor will step on campus as one of the fastest short-sprint players on the team and the fastest long-sprint player on the team while also being the size of a tight end.

Harbor was a defensive end for most of his high school career before becoming a wide receiver. Harbor has (realistic) dreams of running in the Olympics, so he doesn’t want to gain much weight while in college. This means that wide receiver is his future position unless that dream changes. However, there has been some murmuring from the Gamecock defensive staff that Harbor might be available to rush the passer on very obvious passing downs.

The limitless potential of Harbor’s Greek god physique and his positional ambiguity have South Carolina football fans’ imaginations running wild with thoughts of what the Washington DC native might accomplish in Columbia.

Everyone needs to slow down.

Realistically, Nyck Harbor will be a good player for the Gamecocks and will start contributing as a freshman. However, thinking he will instantly become an All-American wide receiver while adding ten sacks as a pass rush specialist on defense is, frankly, unfair to the young man.

Harbor is still new to the wide receiver position. That means he is still learning the best ways to run routes and how to move his body in space and how to catch balls in stride and how to adjust to the ball in the air and how to do a lot of things that wide receivers do.

His athleticism will allow him to help the team early as a long-striding deep ball threat or as a jump ball target in the red zone, but Harbor is joining a receiver room that is loaded with experienced players.

Antwane “Juice” Wells will be Spencer Rattler‘s top target in 2023, and Ahmarean Brown and Xavier Legette are fifth-year seniors with elite speed as well, so they may get the first deep ball opportunities. Tight ends Trey Knox and Joshua Simon are expected to be big-bodied threats in the red zone, perhaps cutting into Harbor’s chances to contribute in that way.

There is a non-zero chance that Harbor shows up on campus and is a superstar immediately. It could happen. However, it seems as if many South Carolina football fans are expecting Harbor to be amazing immediately, and those expectations don’t help anyone.

Gamecock fans need to allow the true freshman to be a true freshman and learn and prepare for the future. The best version of Nyck Harbor exists in a world where he is given opportunities to play and given opportunities to learn. New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains finding that balance with Harbor will be paramount for his long-term development.

As Harbor and his fellow freshman start summer workouts soon and South Carolina football starts fall practice in August, Harbor will be getting his very first taste of college football. Most players need some time to adjust before getting comfortable at a higher level of football. Obvious exceptions exist (Marcus Lattimore dominated Georgia in just his second game as a true freshman), but those situations are rare.

Special teams coordinator Pete Lembo has to have his eye on Harbor. Big players who can run are hot commodities on special teams, especially on coverage units.

When all is said and done in the 2023 season, if Nyck Harbor contributes to positive results on the field and demonstrates growth and increased comfortability as a collegiate wide receiver, that is a big deal for South Carolina football. A season like that will almost assuredly be a stepping stone for Harbor to become an elite player as he gets older.

Overreactions are sure to come once Harbor steps on the field this fall. If he scores two touchdowns in the season opener against North Carolina, “Nyck Harbor for Heisman” Twitter accounts will pop up all over Elon Musk’s internet. If he has one catch and a drop through three games, the unfair “bust” label will be thrown around with reckless abandon.

Avoid overreactions. Relax expectations. Let the freshman be a freshman. Do all of that, and one just might look up in three years and see that Nyck Harbor developed into one of the best to ever play at the University of South Carolina.