ORLANDO ― Senior night festivities at Spectrum Stadium proceeded Friday with the requisite applause and hugs, family and floral arrangements.
Then the guy bedecked in a black No. 10 jersey and Hawaiian leis in various hues emerged from the southwest tunnel, and the cheers hit a crescendo. With one cameo appearance, McKenzie Milton had transformed the pageantry to poignance.
Fifty-three weeks after his catastrophic right knee injury at Raymond James Stadium, the effects of which nearly required an amputation, Milton participated with his classmates in senior night ceremonies prior to kickoff against USF. Wearing black sweat pants shrouding a cumbersome brace, he betrayed nary a limp as he walked toward midfield.
The way he sees it, Friday wasn’t a farewell. The guy who quarterbacked UCF to 24 consecutive victories and evolved into a fringe Heisman candidate remains determined for an encore performance as a Knight.
“The dream’s the same, I want to go to the NFL one day and I want to play football, and then I want to coach after that,” Milton, who has at least a year of eligibility remaining, told reporters in Orlando two weeks ago. “None of that’s changed, that’s still the goal.”
Milton, who graduates in December with a degree in sports and exercise science, said it remains “too soon” to speculate if he’ll be healthy enough to play in 2020. He only wants to return when he’s 100 percent; even a few percentage points less would be a “disservice” to his teammates, he indicated.
He remains heavily involved in team activities, often rehabbing in the weight room with Dave Young ― UCF’s assistant director of sports performance ― while the team practices. The next step in his progression is to graduate from his current brace to a sports-specific one.
“Where I’m at now, it’s night and day from (the injury),” Milton said, “and I’m definitely grateful for where I’m at.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls