National POY Watch: Football contenders

Everybody knows a guy’s gotta win his own state first before he gets a shot at being Gatorade National Football Player of the Year. That said, two elite performers to this point in the season are among those making a bid to be honored as the best of the best once the calendar turns to December. The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes not only athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. There’s plenty more work to be done, but here are two top candidates who remain in contention to win their own state and could someday call themselves a National POY.

Gunner Kiel

Senior quarterback, Columbus East (Columbus, Ind.)

2011 Team record: 12-1

2011 Team standing: Class 4A state semifinal vs. Indianapolis Cathedral on Friday

2011 COMP-ATT (%)-YDs: 114-208 (54.8)-2,332

2011 TDs-INTs: 28-3

2011 Carries-YDs (AVG.)-TDs: 102-486 (4.8)-11

Academics: A-minus average

Collegiate destination: Undecided

How he’s played himself into the State POY conversation: Playing only the first half in a 49-0 victory against Evansville Central in the Class 4A state quarterfinals, completed 6-of-10 passing attempts for 168 yards and three touchdowns in addition to rushing for 91 yards on 12 carries. Averages 11.2 yards per attempt. Owns a 190.52 NCAA Pass Efficiency Rating. 2012 U.S. Army All-American Game selection. No. 20 ranked recruit in Class of 2012 as rated by ESPNU. 2011 First Team All-State preseason selection as named by ESPNHS. As a junior in 2010, threw for 2,645 yards and 36 touchdowns against just six interceptions. 2010 Honorable Mention All-State selection as named by the Associated Press.

Maty Mauk

Senior quarterback, Kenton (Ohio)

2011 Team record: 12-0

2011 Team standing: Division IV state quarterfinal vs. Genoa Area on Saturday

2011 COMP-ATT (%)-YDs: 316-457 (69.1)-4,487

2011 TDs-INTs: 58-10

2011 Carries-YDs (AVG.)-TDs: 190-1,500 (7.9)-16

Academics: A average

Collegiate destination: University of Missouri (verbal)

How he’s played himself into the National POY conversation: Became the nation’s career record-holder for passing yards (17,869) , total yards (21,046), passing attempts (1,974), completions (1,272) and touchdown passes (208). Owns a 189.13 NCAA Pass Efficiency Rating. Averages 9.3 yards every time he touches the ball. 2010-11 Gatorade Ohio Football Player of the Year. 2008-2011 First Team All-State selection. No. 15 ranked quarterback in the Class of 2012 as rated by ESPNU.

Make no mistake, the Gatorade State Football Player of the Year races aren’t over yet, and the National POY race has just begun. Here are some other state contenders who’ve also entered the National POY conversation in this 2011 campaign.

Dorial Green-Beckham: Hillcrest (Springfield, Mo.) senior wide receiver

Johnathan Gray: Aledo (Texas) senior running back

Connor Brewer: Chaparral (Paradise Valley, Ariz.) senior quarterback

Jameis Winston: Hueytown (Ala.) senior quarterback

Noah Spence: Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, Pa.) senior defensive end/tight end

Casey Cochran: Masuk (Monroe, Conn.) senior quarterback

William Likely III: Glades Central (Belle Glade, Fla.) junior cornerback/wide receiver

Think we're missing a deserving Gatorade State or National Player of the Year candidate? Let us know via e-mail at ESPNHS_GPOY@ESPN.com or Twitter @ESPNHS_GPOY.

A dedicated POY team at ESPNHS manages the Gatorade Player of the Year program selection process and oversees all research, reporting, comparative analysis and criteria-compliance on the award program’s behalf.

The Gatorade Player of the Year Program honors athletes who meet comprehensive and exacting criteria in high school sports. Candidates are judged on athletic production and impact in the current season. Contenders also must demonstrate high academic achievement and exemplary personal character, including volunteerism, sportsmanship and community leadership. Senior status has no bearing on a candidate’s merit and selections are made independent of ESPNHS recruit rankings.