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UCF QB McKenzie Milton decides to transfer 2 years after devastating injury

Sam Cooper
·4-min read

McKenzie Milton is leaving UCF.

Milton emerged as a star quarterback back in 2017 when the Knights went undefeated but suffered an extremely serious knee injury in 2018. He has not played since, but has one year of eligibility remaining. And with Dillon Gabriel now entrenched as UCF’s starter, Milton has entered the transfer portal with the goal of playing at another school next season.

Milton dislocated his knee and suffered ligament, nerve and artery damage after taking a hit during a game against South Florida in November 2018. Milton underwent numerous surgeries as doctors fought to stave off potential amputation. After rigorous rehabilitation, Milton said before the season he hoped to suit up in 2020. Instead, he worked as a scout team quarterback behind Gabriel, a sophomore and fellow Hawaii native.

In a video posted by UCF, Milton said his dream is to play in the NFL. The best path for him to potentially realize that dream involves a chance to get back on the field at another school in 2021.

UCF head coach Josh Heupel said Milton came to him a few weeks ago and explained his thought process.

“I came to him during the bye week and told him, ‘Coach, I have one shot to chase a dream — a lifelong dream to go play in the NFL,’” Milton said. “It’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things for me, but it just makes the most sense. I’m trying to think more logically than emotionally.”

Milton: ‘Torch is passed’ to Dillon Gabriel

Milton said Gabriel has “earned the right” to be UCF’s quarterback moving forward.

“I bleed black and gold, but it’s just one of those things. It’s [Dillon Gabriel]’s team now. I feel like the torch is passed,” Milton said. “There’s no reason he should have to be put in a position to compete. He’s earned that right to be our QB. I wouldn’t want to slow down his momentum. He could be a top draft pick next year.”

Heupel said Milton is the “most influential player to ever come through” the UCF program.

“The mark of a great leader is when you come to a place and it looks one way and when you leave, did you leave it in a better place? [Milton] has left UCF in a better place,” Heupel said.

Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton, left, watches quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) before an NCAA college football game against Tulsa, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
McKenzie Milton, left, watches quarterback Dillon Gabriel before UCF's game against Tulsa. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Milton threw for 4,037 yards during undefeated season

Milton became UCF’s starting quarterback as a true freshman in 2016, Scott Frost’s first season as head coach. The Knights went winless in 2015, but ended up winning six games in 2016 and reaching a bowl game.

In 2017, UCF became the story of college football. With Milton leading the way, the Knights went 13-0 and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Milton threw for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns while rushing for 613 yards and eight more scores.

The Knights had another undefeated regular season in 2018, even after Frost left for Nebraska. Milton had another strong season, but was injured in the second-to-last game of the year. UCF won the AAC title game with Milton sidelined, but saw its 25-game winning streak snapped in a Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU.

With Milton sidelined in 2019, Gabriel — who followed Milton’s path from Hawaii to UCF — threw for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns as a true freshman. The lefty has followed it up with 3,353 yards and 30 touchdowns this year for the Knights, who are 6-3 on the year.

Gabriel has at least one more year at UCF, so Milton will look for a new school. Milton told ESPN that he hopes to have his transfer in place by the time the spring semester begins in January. He was cleared to resume football activities over the summer and says his knee is “strong.”

"My knee's strong, all the ligaments are completely intact, I'm stronger than I've ever been, and I'll continue to attack my rehab," Milton told ESPN. "Even though I'm cleared, I know there's still some work to be done, just stacking day after day. By the time August rolls around, I know it's going to be like clockwork playing ball again. I'm really excited for that."

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