Most athletes never get to have that year—the one where they make the key play, get discovered, and continue on to glory and headline news every year.
But there are a select few that do capitalize on their opportunities—from the rookie who lives up to the hype to the third stringer who dazzles us unexpectedly with ability we didn't know they had.
This list is for the athletes—both young and old—who grabbed opportunity by the horns and delivered in a big way this past year.
This one is for the 25 Best Sports Newcomers of 2012.
Coming off the bench earlier in the season due to an Alex Smith injury, Colin Kaepernick has performed admirably— showing decent decision-making, passing and scrambling in his four starts for the San Francisco 49ers.
While his long term value is still up in the air, Kaepernick’s ability to come in and affect a game has put the 49ers in position to take the top seed in the NFC.
Now, I’m not a genie, but barring another breakdown like the 49ers had with the St. Louis Rams it might be time to start drinking the Kool-Aid and believing in this guy.
Cody Zeller may take up most of the Indiana University basketball headlines, but another name on Tom Crean's roster who is beginning to garner national attention is that of Victor Oladipo.
Going from a 3-star high school guard to a regular on ESPN’s Top Ten highlight reel—Indiana University’s high-flying swing-man has developed into a jaw-dropping talent on the hardwood.
After a so-so freshman and an improved sophomore year, Oladipo has upped his game in a way that has NBA scouts taking serious notice and Dickey V losing his marbles (or what very little he has left of said marbles).
In one game Alfred Morris went from “Who’s that?” to the 100% owned breakout back everyone wanted to trade for to get on their fantasy football team.
Since his first week stomping of the New Orleans Saints, Morris has run strong and racked up a total of 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns on the season—healthy stats worthy of a little ROYish attention, that is, if it weren’t for the other insane rookie performances going on in the league this season.
There’s no such thing as too young when it comes to competing in grueling contests of herculean physical endurance.
Which is exactly what 15-year-old Katie Ledecky taught all of us at the London Games when she swam the second fastest women’s 800-meter freestyle of all time and took home a gold medal.
We salute you, Katie. And hope you get all of your amazing athletic accomplishments out of the way in the next four years so you can have what the rest of us know as "fun" in your 20’s.
He doesn't like being called “Muscle Hamster," and we won’t call him “The Dougernaut” because we’d hate ourselves.
So what are we going to call Tampa Bay’s 2012 breakout rookie running back Doug Martin? I’m going with “Beef Marmot.”
It really is a name that says everything you need to know about Martin and the ridiculous rookie season he’s having—averaging just under 100 yards and a touchdown a game as of Week 14 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like I've always said: it's hard to tackle the Beef Marmot.
Few knew who he was when he came onto the scene for Swansea City, but Spanish striker Michu has announced his presence in the Premier League in a big way—scoring 13 goals in his first 18 appearances for Swansea (five of which he scored in his last three appearances).
Michu has quickly moved his way to the top of the scoring tables in the Premiere League and has bigger budget teams around the league drooling to offer him more money than the current 2 million euro contract he has with Swansea.
It’s hard to understate the work put in by the U.S. women’s swim team this summer at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Allison Schmitt earned what I’ll call the “Most Improved” award. After winning a single bronze medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Schmitt walked away from London with three golds, a silver and a bronze.
Schmitt’s biggest individual moment in the London games came when she won the gold for the women’s 200 meter freestyle and set a new Olympic record of 1:53.61 seconds.
Usually I’d have a “Fear the Brow” trademark joke here or mention the fact that Anthony Davis could find temp work as a pterodactyl or chimney broom if this whole “NBA thing” doesn’t pan out, but facts are facts—this kid is having himself a year.
Winning a national championship and being the first pick of 2012 NBA Draft makes for a pretty tidy resume for a rookie basketball player.
Which—if you somehow haven’t heard—is exactly what Anthony Davis has accomplished so far this year. After averaging a double-double (14.2 PPG and 10.4RPG) at the University of Kentucky, Davis was selected first overall by the New Orleans Hornets on the 2012 NBA draft.
A deal was made at the beginning of the 2012 Tour de France: if 22-year-old Liquigas-Cannondale rider Peter Sagan won two stages and the sprinter’s green jersey over the course of the three week race, then Team Liquigas' president would buy him a Porsche.
It was Sagan’s first Tour de France, and most veteran riders are lucky to win just a single stage of the Tour, if any at all, much less two stages and a green jersey.
Tired of ending their season with a seemingly perennial 7-9 record, the Seattle Seahawks needed a spark—they got that and a whole lot more from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson has already helped the Seahawks shake the 7-9 blues after leading Seattle to a scorched earth nuking of the Arizona Cardinals. His seasonal stats show the solid work he’s put up for the team—passing for 2,492 yards and 20 touchdowns with a forgivable 9 interception so far this year.
17-year-old Olympic boxer Claressa Shields might not come at you like a spider monkey jacked up on the Lord’s Mountain Dew, but she'll beat your pretty little face in in the ring.
Shields came into the national light this summer after winning a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in middleweight boxing, becoming the first U.S. fighter boxer to win a gold medal in women’s boxing.
We’re happy to have Shields here on the list of achievements, and hopefully it keeps us on her good side.
His recent win of the Hendrick Award was just one cherry on top of what will surely be a long dessert buffet for the highly talented South Carolina Gamecock sophomore Jadeveon Clowney.
NFL scouts and experts are already drooling over Clowney, whose strength and pass-rushing ability led to 13 sacks this year for a total of 73 yards lost for his opponents this season.
When you put up stats like that in your second year of college football, you've earned yourself a spot on this list.
He might be a rookie on paper, but if there is one thing that this Portland Trail Blazer’s point guard doesn’t do, it is to play like one.
Coming into the 2011 NBA Draft as a four-year player from the small Utah school Weber State, Lillard was picked 6th by the Trailblazers and has been lighting it up ever since, averaging over 18 points and nearly 7 assists per game.
There is not much more you could ask of a rookie guard in an NBA offense than what Lillard has delivered, and if Anthony Davis continues to be bothered by injuries this season don’t be surprised if Lillard takes home Rookie of the Year honors when it’s all said and done.
Rookie Of the Year or not, Wade Miley still made quite a case for being considered one of the premiere rookies in the MLB this past season.
In over 32 games this season Miley has posted strong numbers throwing 144 strikeouts with an average ERA of 3.33.
Miley pitched 7 shutout innings to begin the season and tallied a 2.09 ERA in his first 12 starts, earning himself an invitation to the All-Star team.
He might have lost out to Bryce Harper for the NL’s Rookie of the Year distinction, but the margin was narrow, and Miley proved all that he needed to this year—that he more than belongs with the big boys.
Leading one of the highest power offenses in college football isn’t a cakewalk for any college player.
But Oregon Ducks’ Marcus Mariota stepped up to the plate in a big way this year to fill the void left by the departure of the Ducks’ all-time touchdown passes leader Darron Thomas.
Mariota led the Ducks to an 11-1 record in 2012—passing for 2511 yards and 30 touchdowns over the course of the season.
In spite of his breakout performance as a first time college starter, Mariota still thinks he left some plays out on the field and experts believe he has it in him to be better than Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the long run.
He is the world’s best athlete and few of us had never even heard of him before this summer.
Ashton Eaton arrived at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London as the favorite to win the decathlon. And Eaton did just that—competing in the ten events that make up the decathlon and chalking up 9,038 points to win the event and take gold.
Gabrielle “Flying Squirrel” Douglas won America’s heart and dominated the world stage this summer.
With her bright smile and big air uneven bar routines, Douglas won two gold medals in women’s gymnastics at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London this summer, placing first in both the Team and Individual competitions.
After what she accomplished in 2012 at the age of 16, we can only guess what she’ll be capable of in Brazil in 2016.
While most men his age are picking their kids up in a minivan and dropping their goals for life into a dark hole, R.A. Dickey is just getting around to making his dreams happen.
The 38-year-old New York Mets pitcher went on a dominating bender this season, utilizing his now-perfected knuckleball to devastating effect on opponents.
In 34 games Dickey had an ERA of 2.73 and pitched three shutouts, two of them being back-to-back 1-hitters. All of this monstrous success earned Dickey the Cy Young Award—a feat especially remarkable for an old colt like Dickey who had spent the majority of his professional career getting kicked around the minor leagues.
At 20 years of age, Bryce Harper can’t have a beer yet, but he can still make a lot of grown men in the MLB look like small, small children.
Harper’s performance throughout his first season (.270 BA, 22 HRs, and 59 RBIs) landed the Washington National’s left fielder the distinction of Rookie of the Year for the NL and earned him an invitation to the All-Star game.
You know you’re having a pretty good year when you’re 20 years old and have your own Under Armor commercial.
No highly touted college quarterback is just allowed to just come into the NFL and win games like Andrew Luck did this year with the Indianapolis Colts.
No rookie quarterback is supposed to throw 3,792 yards and 18 TD’s in 13 games. You’re not supposed to replace a legend like Peyton Manning, lead your franchise to a 9-4 record and possibly into the playoffs during your first year at the helm of a professional football team. That’s just not how it works!
But obviously, Andrew Luck doesn't care how it works.
Manziel erupted onto the college football scene this fall with numbers that would barely make sense in video games. The Aggies quarterback threw 24 passing touchdowns and piled 19 more on the ground to take his team to a 10-2 record for the year and earn the first ever Heisman trophy awarded to a freshman in college football history.
Now only if we can come up with a nickname that doesn’t suck for this amazing player.
With Michael Phelps retiring after this summer’s Olympic Games, Missy Franklin has officially became the future of US Olympic swimming.
Franklin led the US women’s team with four gold medals and one silver at the London Games and setting the world record for the women’s 200 meter backstroke with a time of 2:04.06.
Best news of all is that she’ll likely be back for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil—that is, if that walking haircut Justin Bieber doesn’t ruin her amateur status for our entire nation.
Stats and plays that make you say— “Uhhhhwhaaaa?”
That’s what Robert Griffin III has been about his entire rookie season in the NFL. Oh wait, he’s been about that his whole football career.
So we knew this kid was going to be good coming into the season—but not this good. Griffin has been playing like a grown man and a half in his first year with the Washington Redskins—passing for 2,906 and 18 touchdowns with only four interceptions so far this season.
RG3’s play has laid down the gauntlet this year in terms of first-year excellence in the league, and if it weren’t for Andrew Luck, he would be a no-questions-asked shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.
In case you lived in a Inception cave (a cave-within-a-cave) and missed week after week of hard-hitting “Lin-sanity” journalism this past spring surrounding Jeremy Lin’s monstrous coming-out party in the NBA with the New York Knicks, here's what happened.
Jeremy was an unknown playing for the New York Knicks who worked his butt off, and with a lot of luck he played in a game early this year where he proved his brilliance.
Next thing you know Lin is dropping 38 points in a game, has the highest selling jersey in professional basketball and “Lin” puns are leading SportsCenter viewers down a road to complete mental and emotional breakdowns.
“The Troutman.” “Trout-arino.” “The Great Troutowsky.”
Literally no one calls Angels centerfielder Mike Trout any of those nicknames, but what fans do call Mike Trout is the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and owner of perhaps the biggest swinging rookie season in the history of the game.
The 21-year-old from Millville, New Jersey was called up by the Los Angeles Angels in late April of this year to replace veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu, and the kid has been cranking out the Noise ever since.
Trout’s stats were buck wild this past season. The young centerfielder averaged .329 at bat, blasted 30 home runs over the fence and stole a hefty 49 bases over the course of the 2012 season.
Put simply, the kid swings the bat like a champion and runs the bases like some kind of unicorn-cheetah hybrid. A cheeticorn? Now that’s what I’m talking about, people.