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 ESPNU's recruit rankings.
That being said, the state’s top five football recruits as ranked by ESPNU are sure to enter the 2011-12 Gatorade Football Player of the Year conversation at some point. Here they are …
1. Clover Hill High (Midlothian, VA) Quarterback Joel Caleb
ESPNU 150 rank: 79
Weight: 205 pounds
Testing results: 4.68 40-yard dash; 29.6 vertical jump
Traits: Versatility, playmaker, ball skills
ESPNU scouting report: "Caleb is an exceptional overall athlete on both sides of the ball with most of his production coming on offense as a dual-threat QB that is a dynamic running threat. His combination of size, strength and athleticism are amongst the best in the athlete category in the 2012 class. He plays QB here because you want the ball to start in his hands on every play, but we feel he projects as a wide receiver or more likely a safety prospect with a physical, punishing mentality."
2. Brookville High (Lynchburg, VA) Defensive tackle Korren Kirven
ESPNU 150 rank: 108
Weight: 270 pounds
Traits: Disruptiveness, run defense
ESPNU scouting report: "Kirven can be an active and tough player in the trenches. He could rework his build some and still add some more good bulk with time in a college weight program, but overall has good size for the position. He gets in attacking stance and can be an explosive kid, but he does need to work to be more consistent in his get-off."
3. Briar Woods High (Ashburn, VA) Wide receiver/defensive back Alex Carter
ESPNU 150 rank: 113
Weight: 190 pounds
College: Stanford (verbal)
Testing results: 4.42 40-yard dash; 34.0 vertical jump
Traits: Speed, versatility, ball skills
ESPNU scouting report: "Carter is a scheme versatile defensive back and a good overall college prospect. Will most likely play safety at the next level but his good quickness and ball skills make corner a possibility as well as receiver. Has a good frame. Tall, well-built and has room to grow and fill out. Possesses a coveted size to speed ratio and can cover the field with great range and acceleration at safety."
4. Ocean Lakes High (Virginia Beach, VA) Wide receiver/defensive end Eli Harold
ESPNU 150 rank: 128
Weight: 220 pounds
College: Virginia (verbal)
Traits: Versatility, ball skills
ESPNU scouting report: "As athletically impressive as Harold is overall, we do not feel his best upside is on offense, but rather on defense where he shows explosive, raw upside as a speed edge rusher along the defensive front and could also be a very good candidate as a 3-4 OLB/pass rusher. Offensively he is big and fast, but with little polish. His overall ball skills are extremely impressive."
5. Centerville High (Clifton, VA) Linebacker Ken Ekanem
ESPNU rank: No. 17 OLB
Weight: 230 pounds
Testing results: 4.69 40-yard dash; 30.6 vertical jump
Traits: Tackling, diagnosing skills, run support
ESPNU scouting report: "Ekanem displays the explosive initial quickness necessary to create havoc in the opponent's backfield. Although this prospect lines up primarily in a three point stance his size and athleticism appear better suited for the outsize linebacker position at the major level of competition."
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.