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McKenzie Milton transferring from UCF

Two years after his horrific knee injury, the prolific Knights quarterback is ready to lead a team again.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton led the Knights to an undefeated season and Peach Bowl triumph against Auburn in 2017.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton led the Knights to an undefeated season and Peach Bowl triumph against Auburn in 2017.
Published Dec. 3, 2020
Updated Dec. 3, 2020

UCF fifth-year quarterback McKenzie Milton, seeking a chance to become a college starter again two years after nearly losing his right leg, has entered the NCAA transfer portal.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson first reported the news Thursday. UCF released a lengthy retrospective video on social media announcing Milton’s decision.

Milton, who has a year of eligibility remaining, hasn’t played since his gruesome injury against USF Nov. 23, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium. Since then, close friend Dillon Gabriel — a fellow Hawaii native — has become entrenched as UCF’s starter.

“It’s one of the hardest things for me to do, but it just makes the most sense,” Milton said in the UCF-produced video. “I’m trying to think of it more logically than emotionally, because I bleed black and gold. It’s where my heart’s at. ... It’s (Gabriel’s) team now. I feel like the torch has passed.”

Speculation about Milton’s next destination immediately centered on Nebraska, where former Knights coach Scott Frost is struggling to resuscitate his alma mater. Frost, who led Milton and UCF to a 13-0 season in 2017, is 10-19 in two-plus seasons in Lincoln.

Milton was the catalyst in UCF’s surreal 2017 season, finishing eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting and earning American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors.

He set school records for passing yards (4,037), passing touchdowns (37) and pass efficiency (179.29), and recorded nine games of at least 300 passing yards. UCF finished the season with a 34-27 Peach Bowl triumph against Auburn and was named national champ by the Colley Matrix computer-generated rating system.

“In my opinion, he’s the most influential player that’s ever come through this program,” UCF third-year coach Josh Heupel said in the UCF video. “You look at the brand before he got here and the brand as he’s leaving, it’s a tribute to him. A lot of others, but a tribute to him.”

He threw for 2,663 yards and 25 touchdowns the following year, leading the Knights to a 9-0 mark entering their rivalry game at USF. But his career came to a sudden, frightening halt when he was tackled by cornerback Mazzi Wilkins after dashing to the outside early in the second quarter.

Milton dislocated his right knee, tore ligaments and sustained artery damage on the play. Several surgeries were needed, and he nearly had to have the leg amputated.

Related: McKenzie Milton, Mazzi Wilkins share a stage

Yet he remained bent on returning to football, astounding most of the college football world by his methodical but steady recovery. He has been running the Knights’ scout team this year and was expected to make at least a token appearance against the Bulls in his return to the stadium last Friday.

However, he indicated on game day he wanted his next snaps in a contest to be meaningful ones.

Those will come at another school.

“When I stepped between those lines, I gave UCF everything I had,” Milton said. “If I go back, I’d do it all the same. I wouldn’t change a thing — pre-injury, post-injury, all of it.”