Some of them set records. Some of them drop jaws with their highlight reels. Some of them lead amazing comebacks. Some of them almost literally do everything.
We’ve got it all in our 2016 pool for Michigan athlete of the year. There are 12 nominees, from baseball to basketball to softball to boxing. And we need you to cast your votes by the end of the year (11:59 p.m. Dec. 31, to be exact). We’ll announce the winner on New Year’s Day 2017.
So what criteria should you use? Whatever you’d like! In choosing our nominees, we considered dominance in their respective sports and leagues, as well as other factors such as stats, records, impact and popularity.
Let’s introduce you to the nominees, in alphabetical order by last name!
Senior wide receiver, Western Michigan football
The 13-0 Broncos engineered an unlikely run to the Cotton Bowl largely thanks to the performance of Davis, who has tallied 91 catches for 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. But perhaps most importantly, Davis has set the new Football Bowl Subdivision record with 5,205 career receiving yards to go along with 51 career touchdowns. His one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr.-like catch against Northern Illinois also checked in at No. 8 in our Michigan sports plays of the year.
Senior guard, Oakland basketball
Despite his small size at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Felder’s play on the basketball court is massive. The Detroit native and former Detroit Pershing standout dropped 24.4 points per game as a senior at Oakland University in the 2015-16 season, ranking 3rd in all of Division I basketball, while leading the nation with 9.3 assists per game. Thanks to Felder’s game, the Golden Grizzlies went 23-12 last season, reaching the Vegas 16 championship game. All of that led Felder to get drafted 54th overall in June’s NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks, who traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Felder is averaging 9.2 minutes per game in 12 games with the defending champion Cavs, averaging 3.8 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
Right-handed pitcher, Detroit Tigers
Fulmer wasn’t expected to be a mainstay in the Tigers’ rotation entering the 2016 season; in fact, he started the year in Triple-A Toledo. But he made his season debut April 29 in Minnesota and, despite some growing pains in the early-going, the Tigers won 15 of his first 17 starts. In that stretch, Fulmer set a franchise record with 33.1 consecutive scoreless innings, which ranks only behind Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 for the longest scoreless inning streak by a rookie. Fulmer finished the season 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, striking out 132 batters, and was named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Forward, Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are heavily struggling in the first half of the 2016-17 season, but the 20-year-old Larkin gives the franchise great hope for the future. Drafted 15th overall in 2014, the Waterford native and former Michigan hockey star led the Red Wings with 23 goals and a +/- of 11 his rookie season, and finished tied for third on the team with 45 points. Larkin also caught the nation’s eyeballs last January, when he won the NHL’s fastest skater competition in record time at NHL All-Star festivities in Nashville.
Wide receiver, Detroit Cass Tech
Peoples-Jones isn’t just Michigan’s best high school football player. He’s the best high school football prospect to come out of the state in years. The Cass Tech star dazzled on the gridiron once again his senior year and led the Technicians to another Division 1 state championship. He tallied 1,007 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns his senior year. Peoples-Jones committed to Michigan last week, joining the likes of other top Michigan prep talents such as Detroit King’s Ambry Thomas and Cass Tech teammate Jaylen Kelly-Powell.
Junior linebacker, Michigan football
Michigan football was a freight train for much of the fall, and a big reason for that was the player wearing No. 5 that was found just about anywhere on the field. Though his stat line won’t wow you – 66 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception on defense – Peppers filled holes wherever U-M needed him, including on offense, where he rushed 27 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He also made big moves in the return game and, though he ended up with just one punt return for a touchdown, Peppers often flipped field position with his return abilities. Peppers was the lone defensive player nominated for the Heisman Trophy, finishing fifth in voting.
Infielder, Michigan softball
Romero ended her immaculate college career as the best softball player in the United States. The Murrieta, Calif. native led the Wolverines with a .451 average, 19 home runs, 79 RBIs and 76 runs scored as U-M went 52-7 in the 2015-16 season and reached yet another Women’s College World Series. Romero was named Big Ten softball player of the year three times and, in 2016, was named the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, the espnW softball player of the year and the Schutt Sports/NFCA Division I player of the year.
Women’s middleweight boxer, Flint
“T-Rex” has shown time and time again that she can’t be stopped in the ring – including this year at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Flint native secured back-to-back gold medals in the women’s middleweight class with absolute ease, defeating Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands in the championship match. Shields went pro last month and beat Franchon Crews by unanimous decision in her first match. She is 78-1 in her boxing career, with the only loss coming in 2012. The 2015 documentary about her life in Flint, “T-Rex,” was shown at the 2016 Freep Film Festival last March.
Quarterback, Detroit Lions
No, he didn’t make the initial Pro Bowl roster this season, but Lions fans know he should be in it. The Lions are surprisingly 9-5 and in the NFC North lead with just two weeks of the regular season to go, and there’s no question the team MVP has been Stafford. Eight of the team’s nine victories this year came from fourth-quarter comebacks led by Stafford. He’s thrown for 3,720 yards, 22 touchdowns and just eight interceptions this season while completing 66.3% of his passes. On a semi-unrelated note, he’s winning off the field, too: Stafford and his wife, Kelly, are expecting twins.
Senior guard, Michigan State basketball
Valentine’s NBA career is just budding with the Chicago Bulls but, before he was drafted 14th overall, the Lansing native was named Associated Press Player of the Year for what he accomplished at Michigan State his senior year. Valentine broke out with 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game for the Spartans, leading MSU to a 29-6 overall record and a Big Ten tournament championship. Valentine was a consensus first-team All-American, was named Big Ten Player of the Year and went from perhaps being undrafted to becoming a lottery pick in June’s draft.
Right-handed pitcher, Detroit Tigers
Fulmer wasn’t the only Tigers pitcher to have an outstanding season. The Tigers’ long-time ace, even at 33 years old, is still pitching with dominance. Verlander – after struggling mightily in 2014 and fighting injuries in 2015 – posted a 16-9 record with a 3.04 ERA in 2016, leading the league with a 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts, to post his best season since 2012. He was a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award for the third time, narrowly losing to former teammate Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox in what turned out to be a controversial vote.
Guard, Michigan State and U-D Jesuit basketball
The 2016 Mr. Basketball Award winner and Max Preps first-team All-American following a standout senior year at U-D Jesuit, Winston is now playing under Tom Izzo at Michigan State, averaging 7.5 points and 6.0 assists in 20.7 minutes per game for the Spartans. If his performance as a prep star is any indication, however – 21.9 points, 7.5 assists and five rebounds per game as a senior – Winston should quickly become a star at MSU. He led U-D Jesuit to a Class A state championship last spring and was named the 2016 Gatorade Michigan boys basketball player of the year.
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Contact Brian Manzullo: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrianManzullo.