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Tom Jones' Two Cents

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Athletes to watch in 2012



Welcome to our annual list of athletes to watch in the upcoming year. This isn’t about athletes you already know well, such as Kobe Bryant and Aaron Rodgers, but younger athletes looking to have breakout years. In years past, we’ve given you a heads up on such athletes as Tim Tebow and Steven Stamkos. So here’s our list of athletes to watch in 2012.

Allyson Felix
The 26-year-old Los Angeles native could be the breakout star of the 2012 London Olympics. She is the only woman to win the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter dashes at the U.S. championships. She is the favorite to win the 200 in London, as well as a serious contender in the 400 and a member of the 4x400 relay team that should win gold.

Nail Yakupov
Great name, eh? Born in Russia, the 18-year-old now plays right wing for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League. He is ranked the top prospect in hockey and, in July, could become the third Russian to be selected first overall in the NHL draft after Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin. He’s not especially big (5-11, 170), but his speed has many comparing him to the Russian Rocket — Pavel Bure.

Dorial Green-Beckham
This wide receiver from Hillcrest High in Springfield, Mo., is considered the No. 1 high school recruit in the country. He set the national record for career receiving yards with 6,447 and holds state records for single-season receiving yards (2,233 on 199 catches) and single-game receiving yards (354). At 6-6, 220, Green-Beckham is being recruited by practically every university in the country, but early word is he could end up at Texas.

Rebecca Adlington
It’s always cool to watch a star from the host country of the Olympics. With the 2012 Summer Games in London, watch for Adlington, one of the best swimmers in the world. She won two golds (400 and 800 free) at the last Olympics in Beijing and will be 23 for the London Games. Her duels with Italy’s Federica Pellegrini should be among the highlights of the London games.

Matt Moore
True, this guy isn’t exactly an unknown in these parts. Rays fans have been waiting for his arrival for a couple of years and the 22-year-old left-handed pitcher gave a nice sneak preview at the end of last season with an 11-strikeout performance against the Yankees and victory in the playoffs against Texas when he pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits with six strikeouts He could give the Rays their second consecutive rookie of the year, joining fellow pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.

Jacoby Brissett
No one is exactly sure who will replace John Brantley and be the Gators starting quarterback next season, but we’re going to go out on a limb and say it’s Brissett. The 6-foot-3 native of West Palm Beach will be a sophomore next season and was a favorite of Charlie Weis, the former offensive coordinator at Florida. Weis is no longer there, but there’s a reason Weis loved Brissett. The kid is really talented.

Jhonattan Vegas
This 27-year-old golfer was born in Venezuela and played golf at the University of Texas. He turned pro in 2008 and has only one victory on the PGA Tour. He has appeared in only two majors, missing the cut at last year’s Master’s and tied for 51st at the PGA Championship. He is ranked 111th in the World Golf Rankings, but there’s a gut feeling among those on the Tour that Vegas will be a star someday. Maybe that will happen in 2012.

Danica Patrick
Everyone has heard of Patrick, one of the best female race car drivers ever. So why is she on this list? Because she joins NASCAR full time in 2012, racing a regular Nationwide schedule for JR Motorsports and maybe as many as 10 Sprint Cup events for Stewart-Haas Racing.

[Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 9:48am]


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