At Butch Woolfolk’s dwelling in Houston, the plaques he earned for working observe and taking part in soccer at Michigan sit facet by facet. The awards commemorate a stretch within the early Nineteen 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 working 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 observe, the place Woolfolk was one of the vital adorned highschool sprinters within the nation, he received a handful of Big 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 observe meet in 1978 when Woolfolk captured the 100- and 200-meter titles after working the “quickest schoolboy occasions within the nation,” based on 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. (Picture courtesy of Butch Woolfolk)
“And it’s the final time I’ve ever seen myself as the very best that there was,” Woolfolk mentioned in an interview with FOX Sports activities. He added: “I take a look at that often and I at all times 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 observe for the Wolverines, an inventory that features Braylon Edwards, Denard Robinson, Tyrone Wheatley, Desmond Howard, Harlan Huckleby and Thomas Wilcher, amongst others. However nearly all of them have 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 observe and discipline staff is amenable for athletes desirous to scratch a aggressive itch however proved untenable for anybody craving a good partnership — particularly if reaching the NFL is a major objective.
Conversations about somebody bucking that development have intensified throughout Michigan’s recruitment of Nyckoles Harbor, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound wunderkind from Archbishop Carroll Excessive Faculty in Washington, D.C., the place his coaches have described him as a generational expertise akin to the good 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 prime schoolers this 12 months.
Harbor intends to pursue each sports activities in faculty and would face related obstacles wherever he commits. He’s rated the No. 16 overall player within the 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2023 recruiting class. He stays probably 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 faculties hoping to land an athlete uniquely positioned to reply the what ifs.
“I don’t see a cause why I can’t … be the primary choose within the NFL draft after which practice within the offseason for the Olympics and do this, too,” Harbor advised The Washington Publish earlier this 12 months (He didn’t reply to interview requests for this story). “Clearly it’ll be arduous. Lots of people say that I’m probably the most gifted person who they’ve ever seen, so why can’t I be the primary to do that?”
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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 Football Player this size has ever done this! and THE SCARIEST RECRUIT IN 2023!, with a whole lot of 1000’s of mixed views and commenters that describe him as all the pieces from the primary individual deserving of a six-star rating, to an escapee from some authorities lab in close by Langley, Virginia, dwelling of the CIA.
It’s tough to contextualize a teen who’s so massive and so quick.
“Nyckoles Harbor has the quickest max velocity on document for any athlete taller than 6-2,” mentioned a tweet from the sports activities expertise and information firm Recruiting Analytics, “with a verified max velocity of twenty-two.1 mph.”
Debates proceed to rage about Harbor’s greatest place on the subsequent stage. Some envision him as a defensive finish or exterior linebacker careening off the sting with the type of power 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 measurement with straight-line velocity corresponding to Kansas City Chiefs broad receiver Tyreek Hill, who ran a private better of 10.19 seconds within the 100-meter sprint at Backyard Metropolis Neighborhood Faculty. (Harbor caught 31 passes for 729 yards and 10 touchdowns within the final two years mixed.)
Sources conversant in Michigan’s recruitment of Harbor mentioned the teaching workers initially seen him as an edge rusher who can be given possibilities to contribute on offense. However Harbor’s private desire is believed to be offense, the place the bodily calls for and snap counts aren’t as taxing — particularly at broad receiver — and there can be much less strain so as to add the type of bulk that may hinder his improvement on the observe. Early recruiting overtures from defensive position coach Mike Elston and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter have been swapped for efforts by broad receivers coach Mike Bellamy, who’s now the lead recruiter, and Harbaugh.
“If I’m him,” mentioned Edwards, the No. 3 total choose within the 2005 NFL draft who spent one 12 months on the observe and discipline staff, throughout an interview with FOX Sports activities, “I gotta ask myself a query: Do I wanna go to the NFL, or do I need to critically have this dream of soccer and observe? If I need to critically have this dream of soccer and observe, you gotta play broad receiver. If you wish to go to the NFL, you’ve gotta play tight finish or defensive finish.”
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 non-public observe coaches, Pamela Crockett, is a Michigan alumna. A former teammate of Harbor’s, Ziyah Holman, now runs for the ladies’s observe 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 Publish through Getty Pictures)
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 observe 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 observe earlier than creating into an All-American quarterback. When Harbor posed for images at Michigan’s observe and discipline complicated, staffers from each groups have been there to look at.
A stunning indoor observe facility has grow to be an necessary instrument for Michigan when recruiting athletes like Harbor who’re additionally contemplating faculties 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 sources for Olympic sports activities. Concepts for the indoor observe and discipline middle, which opened in 2018, have been gleaned from each home and worldwide arenas to provide customized options like a hydraulic, banked 200-meter competitors observe surrounded by a 300-meter observe observe, with extra dash lanes and soar runways throughout the infield.
The climate-controlled construction affords a snug coaching atmosphere to offset Ann Arbor’s common snowfall of 43 inches per 12 months.
“It’s simple to say, ‘Effectively, I can solely do sure issues in a sure local weather or a sure location,’” mentioned Steven Rajewsky, an assistant observe coach at Michigan, throughout an interview with FOX Sports activities. “However I feel there’s sufficient faculties like Michigan that present you are able to do it and it has been finished.”
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Seven weeks earlier than reporting to Michigan, Robinson savored what he thought was the capstone to his observe and discipline profession for Deerfield Seaside Excessive Faculty 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, supposed to concentrate on soccer for the Wolverines. Working collegiately by no means crossed his thoughts till then-Michigan observe and discipline coach Fred LaPlante dropped by a soccer observe and inspired Robinson to strive each sports activities. After a number of nudges, Robinson requested head coach Wealthy Rodriguez for permission to affix the indoor observe staff after soccer season.
“If Denard needed to do it,” Rodriguez mentioned in an interview with FOX Sports activities, “I used to be 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 seemed one thing like this: each day 5 a.m. wake-up requires soccer power and conditioning; tutorial lessons all through the morning; observe and discipline practices round noon; late-afternoon rehab periods within the soccer coaching room; examine hours within the tutorial middle every night.
“I used to be 18 years outdated,” Robinson mentioned throughout an interview with FOX Sports activities, “so I may 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 major 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 observe and discipline athletes educated. They have been pressured to take care of cumbersome physiques for soccer somewhat than remodeling into lithely-built sprinters.
Denard Robinson set observe apart to enhance his odds of profitable the beginning quarterback job at Michigan. (Picture by Leon Halip/Getty Pictures)
Most of them reached a degree the place selecting between soccer and observe grew to become 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 observe meets, remembers needing to be massaged and stretched within the staff lodge previous to the Massive Ten Indoor Monitor and Area Championships in 2010 after a number of the most arduous soccer exercises of the offseason earlier that week. “I felt like they type of did me soiled,” Robinson mentioned. He completed one spot shy of the 60-meter finals and spurned the prospect to run outside observe to enhance his odds of profitable the beginning quarterback job in spring soccer.
“A unique place and you may be in each sports activities,” Robinson mentioned. “I imply, RGIII did it (former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III). However his (observe) coach had labored out a deal even earlier than he obtained there. I didn’t have that very same luxurious with me working observe.”
— Woolfolk, who mentioned Schembechler promised he may skip spring observe to pursue Olympic qualification, grew disenchanted and heartbroken when soccer attendance proved necessary. He nonetheless superior to the Olympic trials for the 200-meter sprint however remembers getting “my doorways blown off by guys that I had overwhelmed in highschool that have been now on prime as a result of they strictly paid consideration to trace.” Reasonably than argue with Schembechler, Woolfolk performed 4 years of spring soccer along with working observe for coach Jack Harvey. The bodily toll of soccer diminished his velocity and curiosity within the sport he liked most. Woolfolk redirected his consideration towards a possible profession within the NFL as a substitute.
“Coach Harvey was intimidated by Bo,” Woolfolk mentioned. “In reality, the couple occasions I would go away spring ball to go over there and observe, he would say, ‘Are you OK? Don’t let Bo catch you over right here,’ like he would get in bother. It was one thing that Bo actually managed. He owned all the pieces and he knew the place I used to be.”
“I’ve not come to peace with it,” Woolfolk added. “I agonize over it on a regular basis.”
Butch Woolfolk believes he may have competed within the Olympics if he had been capable of give observe sufficient consideration. “I’ve not come to peace with it,” he mentioned. (Images courtesy of Butch Woolfolk)
— Edwards, who requested about competing in each sports activities throughout his recruitment, mentioned Carr was amenable if soccer tasks have been correctly dealt with. “There’s at all times an if,” Edwards mentioned. A sprinter and excessive jumper, Edwards mentioned he conditioned himself to view observe and discipline as a vessel by way of which he may grow to be 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.
“In the event you’re giving a child a scholarship,” Edwards mentioned, “you need to see that child. You need to see that child within the coaching room. You need to see him within the weight room. You need to see him watching movie. You need to see him simply strolling round together with his teammates.
“So I feel that was the toughest half is gamers not seeing me and being like, ‘Ah, man, he will get particular privileges?’ And I feel the coaches have been (like), ‘Is he taking soccer critical? Is he nonetheless figuring out his playbook? Is he preparing for subsequent season?’
“These have been the 2 hardest elements is weight fluctuation and never being across the facility for coaches to see you each day.”
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Final June, lengthy after his staff accomplished spring observe, Harbaugh spoke with reporters at a recruiting occasion in Massive 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 already know my love of a number of sports activities, guys that play a number of sports activities,” Harbaugh mentioned 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 principally 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 seemingly warrants better latitude than earlier soccer coaches have been keen to supply.
“I do not know the way good I may have been,” Butch Woolfolk says. Can it’s totally different for Nyckoles Harbor? (Picture courtesy of Butch Woolfolk)
A lot of the Michigan soccer gamers who ran observe lacked the Olympic potential many imagine 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 velocity and he has prototypical NFL measurement,” mentioned Edwards, who, like Robinson, loved being a part of the observe program regardless of the brevity and challenges of their respective experiences. “I feel he’s in a category of his personal and I feel it is a totally different day and age.”
So what if?
What if Harbor finds a option to dominate the soccer discipline with out sacrificing the potential he’s proven on the observe? 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 query will at all times be there,” Woolfolk mentioned. “The burning sensation that’s within me is I don’t know the way good I may have been.”
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Michael Cohen covers faculty soccer and basketball for FOX Sports activities with an emphasis on the Massive Ten. Observe him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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