What Nyckoles Harbor commitment would mean for Gamecocks

Nyckoles Harbor (8), who is playing in the 2023 Under Armour Next All-America Football Game, practices at the ESPN Wild World of Sports in Kissimmee, FL on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.

Nyckoles Harbor (8), who is playing in the 2023 Under Armour Next All-America Football Game, practices at the ESPN Wild World of Sports in Kissimmee, FL on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.

Special To The State

Shane Beamer is en fuego.

There’s the wins over No. 5 Tennessee and No. 8 Clemson that come to mind. There’s Spencer Rattler and Antwane “Juice” Wells’ respective returns to Columbia. There’s the run on talent to start the 2024 recruiting class. There’s also that massive contract extension Beamer inked earlier this month.

The only thing left on the good vibes docket? That’d be five-star athlete Nyckoles Harbor’s impending commitment announcement scheduled for Wednesday’s National Signing Day.

“I‘d say we’re close,” Beamer said last week in regard to capping off South Carolina’s 2023 class. “But certainly you guys know there’s still some positions that we have critical needs at that we’re not done solidifying yet.”

South Carolina’s pursuit of Harbor is long and well documented. Beamer was among the first coaches to offer the Washington, D.C., product when he was still coaching tight ends at Oklahoma. The Gamecocks’ staff has since put on the full-court press for an athlete with legitimate aspirations of running track in the Olympic games and hopes of becoming a surgeon.

The list has trimmed in recent months. South Carolina, Maryland and Oregon — which hosted Harbor on an official visit this past weekend — are among the front-runners. Michigan looms, too.

So what would a Harbor commitment to USC mean for the program? In short, plenty.

“We’re all for two-sport athletes around here,” Beamer said in a not-so-subtle nudge at Harbor after South Carolina’s win over Charlotte in September. “We’re recruiting one right now that would be an unbelievable track athlete and football player here as well.”

Harbor is a unicorn. He’s a freak athlete and, as mentioned, an elite track star. He’s the kind of player that you get on campus and figure out where to put him later. The general consensus is he’d play tight end at South Carolina, though he has the ability to be a defensive end should he add weight to his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame.

It’s no secret the Gamecocks tight end room could use the infusion of talent. Position coach Jody Wright, who’s been a big part of Harbor’s recruitment, has helped retool the group following the transfers of Jaheim Bell and Austin Stogner, Traevon Kenion’s retirement and Nate Adkins’ exhausted eligibility.

Still, only three of the projected top five players in that room are slated to be on the roster in 2024.

Beyond the obvious need at tight end, Harbor is the kind of massive national recruit that builds momentum in the immediate and looming future.

The most recent round of updates to the 247Sports Composite has him rated as the No. 19 player and No. 1 athlete in the 2023 class. Should he choose South Carolina, Harbor would be the fifth-highest rated prospect to commit to the Gamecocks since 2010 — trailing only Jadeveon Clowney, Jordan Burch, Zacch Pickens and Marcus Lattimore. That’s rare air around Columbia.

There’s also a buzz that comes with reeling in a prospect of Harbor’s magnitude. South Carolina has generally lived off recruiting classes that tend to rank in the middle of the SEC, converting some of those three-star prospects into big-time contributors.

Adding a player like Harbor, though, creates a stir.

Beamer and South Carolina are already off to a rip-roaring start in the 2024 class. That includes commitments from three top 130 players in a six-day span last week. Before that? South Carolina had only signed one player ranked that high in its 2021, 2022 and 2023 classes combined.

“I think one of the things that I may be a little unfair about evaluating South Carolina is holding them to the standard of 2010-ish,” Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated told The State. “ I don’t even think that’s the standard they hold themselves as far as a recruiting class, recruiting ability, all that kind of stuff. They’re trying to find a way to do it that’s best for them. And I think after two years, you’ve got a proof of concept that this thing looks like it’s built on solid ground.”

It’s not that far gone Steve Spurrier ratcheted up recruiting in Columbia. Signing players like Clowney and Lattimore — albeit in-state products — helped begin a generational run that included three-straight 11-win seasons.

Landing Harbor’s signature on Wednesday doesn’t guarantee Beamer and co. are slotted for a head-on collision with SEC East title (Kirby Smart and Georgia do still exist, after all). However, it’s another data point signifying the immense talent upgrades that have followed Beamer’s hiring in December 2020.

Add Harbor on Wednesday and the man occupying the corner office in Columbia may well become the hottest coach in America.

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Ben Portnoy is The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks football beat writer. He’s a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors award honoree and has earned recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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