JAIDYN Stephenson has become the first Collingwood player to claim the NAB AFL Rising Star award.
The Magpie sensation, pick No.6 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, polled 52 votes to take home the prestigious Ron Evans Medal from Adelaide's Tom Doedee (42 votes) and Brisbane's Alex Witherden (32 votes).
Stephenson kicked 34 goals for the season – 11 more than the next-highest return for a player eligible for the award, Sydney's Ben Ronke (23).
Stephenson was one of four Pies to kick more than 30 goals for the season, with the 19-year-old's speed and creativity in front of goal a crucial factor in Collingwood's return to finals and its eventual finish in the top four.
The 19-year-old, the red-hot favourite to take home the award, joins coach Nathan Buckley, who was the inaugural winner as a Brisbane player in 1993.
"I certainly didn't think I was a sure thing. I haven't been too nervous in the days leading up but today it hit me a little bit," Stephenson said.
"I'd done the best I could and I couldn't change the outcome anymore, so I just had to relax a little bit."
Stephenson also pointed out in his press conference that Collingwood women's player Chloe Molloy won the NAB AFLW Rising Star in March.
Stephenson bagged a career-high five goals in the Magpies' 48-point victory over Adelaide in round four to receive his nomination, going on to play every game in his debut season.
Despite long being considered a star draft prospect with the Eastern Ranges and Vic Metro, just weeks out from last year's Draft clubs were informed about a heart condition that could have affected the longevity of Stephenson's AFL career.
Some clubs were wary and took him off their draft boards, with the Magpies only receiving medical clearance to pick the exciting forward five hours before last year's Draft.
"There was a time there where I thought I might not get drafted, and I was a little bit nervous," Stephenson said.
"But for Derek Hine and his recruiting team and (president) Eddie McGuire to show faith in me, and all those involved, to take the risk on me and the chance on me I do owe them a lot."
Stephenson takes a tablet three times a day to help manage his heart condition.
"I've been able to do all the training and I haven't missed a beat. I'm just like anyone else who has to take a tablet every day," Stephenson said.
Stephenson paid special tribute to the bond he has with his grandfather Max, who used to throw socks at him as a three-year-old to help hone his hand-eye coordination.
"That slowly progressed into kicking. He unfortunately got dementia and we all know what dementia does to the body, but I'd go into the hospital and he wouldn't know my name, he wouldn't know who I was," Stephenson said.
"I'd bring out a footy and he'd still kick the footy with me, so that was unbelievable."
The NAB AFL Rising Star nominees of 2018. Picture: AFL Photos
After biding his time in the SANFL in his first two seasons, Doedee produced a breakout season in inheriting Jake Lever's role in 2018 – averaging 2.2 intercept marks and 18 disposals per game before breaking his collarbone in round 22.
No Rising Star nominee averaged more than Witherden's 22.4 disposals down back, with coach Chris Fagan believing his charge would have been a worthy overall winner.
West Coast's Tom Cole and Jake Waterman, and Greater Western Sydney's Sam Taylor, remained in Perth and Sydney respectively as they gear up for their finals campaigns, while Geelong's Jack Henry arrived at the function late after completing his training commitments in the morning.
Collingwood's Sam Murray was not in attendance as he awaits the results of an ASADA investigation after he recorded an elevated reading in a post-match drug test recently.
52 Jaidyn Stephenson (Coll)
42 Tom Doedee (Adel)
32 Alex Witherden (Bris)
11 Jack Higgins (Rich)
10 Jack Henry (Geel), Ollie Florent (Syd)
4 Cameron Rayner (Bris)
2 Ben Ronke (Syd)
1 Aaron Francis (Ess), Ed Richards (WB)
NAB AFL Rising Star winners: 1993-present
|2018||Jaidyn Stephenson||COLL||52||Eastern U18 (VIC)|
|2017||Andrew McGrath||ESS||51||Sandringham Dragons (VIC)|
|2016||Callum Mills||SYD||49||North Shore (NSW)|
|2015||Jesse Hogan||MELB||49||Claremont (WA)|
|2014||Lewis Taylor||BL||39||Terang-Mortlake (VIC)|
|2013||Jaeger O'Meara||GCFC||44||Perth (WA)|
|2012||Daniel Talia||ADEL||43||Calder Cannons (VIC)|
|2011||Dyson Heppell||ESS||44||Gippsland Power (VIC)|
|2010||Daniel Hannebery||SYD||45||Kew (VIC)|
|2009||Daniel Rich||BL||45||Subiaco (WA)|
|2008||Rhys Palmer||FRE||44||East Fremantle (WA)|
|2007||Joel Selwood||GEEL||44||Bendigo U18|
|2006||Danyle Pearce||PORT||43||Sturt (SA)|
|2005||Brett Deledio||RICH||43||Kyabram/ Murray U18|
|2004||Jared Rivers||MELB||45||North Adelaide (SA)|
|2003||Sam Mitchell||HAW||33||Mooroolbark/ Eastern U18|
|2002||Nick Riewoldt||STK||34||Southport (Qld)|
|2001||Justin Koschitzke||STK||31||Albury (NSW)/ Murray U18|
|2000||Paul Hasleby||FRE||33||East Fremantle (WA)|
|1999||Adam Goodes||SYD||33||Horsham/ North Ballarat U18|
|1998||Byron Pickett||NMFC||30||Port Adelaide (SANFL)|
|1997||Michael Wilson||PORT||27||Port Adelaide (SANFL)|
|1996||Ben Cousins||WCE||-||East Fremantle (WA)|
|1995||Nick Holland||HAW||-||North Adelaide (SA)|
|1994||Chris Scott||BL||-||Eastern U18|
|1993||Nathan Buckley||BL||-||Port Adelaide (SANFL)|