McKenzie Milton isn’t just back. He’s a serious contender to start at FSU.

The former UCF star played well in his most significant action since sustaining a gruesome leg injury in Tampa in 2018.
Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton, who once starred at UCF, looked ready to start again after Saturday's spring game.
Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton, who once starred at UCF, looked ready to start again after Saturday's spring game. [ DON JUAN MOORE | FSU Sports Information ]
Published April 11, 2021|Updated April 11, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — After the chaos of having coaches buzzing around for his first 13 practices at Florida State, things got calmer for McKenzie Milton during Saturday’s spring game. It was just him and his teammates on a football field, finally.

“You’re just playing,” Milton said.

Twenty-eight months ago, just playing seemed unlikely, if not impossible for the former UCF star. Not after he went down with a gruesome leg injury at USF in 2018.

By that measure, Milton simply taking the field was a remarkable accomplishment. But Milton didn’t just play Saturday. He played well. Well enough to look like a legitimate contender to start his Seminoles debut against Notre Dame in September.

Milton played better than his numbers (6-of-11 for 96 yards and a touchdown) suggest. He moved well in and out of the pocket; his 14-yard rush was the longest by a quarterback Saturday.

His passes looked strong, too. There was a gorgeous 27-yard pass down the sideline to promising early enrollee Malik McClain. A 16-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Robinson thrown where only his receiver could catch it. A 39-yard zip down the seam to Joshua Burrell.

The fact that Milton preceded that exhibition with a great Thursday practice was a good sign, too.

“Just continued growth,” coach Mike Norvell said.

It’s too soon to know whether that growth will be enough for Milton to become the starter. His top competitor, Jordan Travis, had a “phenomenal spring,” according to Norvell. Travis was 8-of-14 for 115 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Like Milton, he led the offense to two scores (one touchdown, one field goal) in three drives.

Both will be pushed by Chubba Purdy, last year’s four-star signee who was shut down this spring to focus on rehabilitating from surgeries. Norvell didn’t say how much separation, if any, he has seen through the spring.

“Those guys are going to push each other,” Norvell said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

For Milton, it already is. A career that was in major jeopardy two and a half years ago has another chapter.

Sure, it was only three drives in an exhibition. But it’s the closest Milton has come to a real game since he crumpled to the Raymond James Stadium turf in November 2018.

“It’s been a long time since I was able to do that,” Milton said. “I won’t take it for granted at all (after) these past couple years. It’s just a blessing to be out here and a blessing to be wearing this logo. It’s something I’ll cherish for this next year and just have fun with it.”

Three other thoughts from Saturday:

Potential playmakers emerge.

Pinellas Park High product Lawrance Toafili gained 45 yards on four carries. Treshaun Ward, a former walk-on from Tampa Bay Tech, had another 41 yards on six attempts. Auburn transfer D.J. Williams looks like a nice addition, and McClain was the day’s top receiver. The fact that only Ward was here when Norvell arrived is a good sign for the future.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The offensive line might be a concern.

Might be is the key phrase because at least four players were out with injuries (including versatile starter Devontay Love-Taylor) and sacks are called generously to protect quarterbacks. But there were clear issues with 11 sacks in the first half, and FSU’s recent history at the position suggests the line still has plenty of work to do.

Jermaine Johnson is an impact transfer.

The former four-star recruit had 36 tackles in two years at Georgia and has made an immediate impression with the Seminoles. He had two sacks and a quarterback hurry before leaving with an injury (which didn’t seem serious). He’s a welcome addition to a pass rush that ranked 119th nationally last year.

• • •

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.