After achieving an epic comeback on a level akin to the NFL's Alex Smith and seeing that his NFL future does not look promising, former UCF Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton has decided to retire from football as a player.
With UCF Athletics having lept into the big time with the pending move to the Power 5, fans have been looking back through its history and weighing figures past and present in how much they contributed to the Knights' ground-breaking success. But from what seems apparent on social media and in scuttlebutt among fans, there is one who seems to stand out among the others as the top choice for most iconic for the program.
While he may not have been as physically gifted as Dante Culpepper, been drafted into the NFL like Blake Bortles or Kevin Smith, or been a pop culture figure in a Nike commercial like Shaquim Griffin, McKenzie Milton will be forever remembered for his time with the Black and Gold.
During his first year under center in 2016, his path to glory was far less clear for the Hawaii native as his season was loaded with ups and downs under then-head coach Scott Frost. But while the kid they call KZ would meet harsh criticism for his performance in a Cure Bowl loss to Arkansas State to conclude that 2016 season, it would be a stepping stone to what is arguably the best season in UCF Football history.
Leading into 2017, chatter was abound that Milton may not even start as the Knights’ field general in favor of Noah Vedral. And as fate would have it and with no offense to Vedral, this may turn out to be the most humorous statement written in this piece as the man who brought Ohana to UCF would also be at the helm as UCF chalked up their second NY6 Bowl win in the Peach Bowl over Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers (perhaps the earliest effort to peak his interest in UCF) that would lead to a National Championship by way of the NCAA-recognized Colley Matrix.
While all of the on-field accolades are impressive for his team and the program, it was the little things that Milton did that made him a loved figure amongst the UCF faithful. Staying late with the media at availabilities, signing autographs for fans, and his embracing the community despite coming from literally half the world away endeared him in a way that few other Black and Gold greats could achieve.
In 2018, the UCF Knights signal caller was selected by the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, securing exclusive rights should he have decided to play in Canada. If the story ended here, this would make a fine swan song for a champion, but as it would turn out Milton’s biggest challenge had yet to come. . .
Continuing an undefeated streak that marked UCF 23rd in the preseason poll rankings while welcoming new head coach Josh Heupel into the fold, November 30th was meant to be a continuation of the tradition of Black Friday rivalry with USF and a routine win for the Knights. But as the game of football reminded us all who watched, things are one play away from no longer being routine. . .
Early in the contest, Raymond James Stadium went from excited to silenced when a freak collision on a Milton run that first looked like many others he successfully executed throughout his career ended with a horrifying knee dislocation that not only impacted his prospects as a player but threatened the loss of his leg.
While his team rallied with backup Darriel Mack Jr. taking snaps to win the game, their starter was taken in an ambulance to a local hospital where he immediately underwent surgery to correct circulation issues that saved the use of the extremity.
This would be the first of four surgeries that Milton underwent to reduce and correct his knee. There would be bumps in the road along the way. In this case, the journey was just as important, if not more than the destination.
During Milton's time out, he started morphing into a de-facto quarterback coach, working with then UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. This helped forge his desire and demonstrated his aptitude to coach once his playing days were over.
Going into 2021 after two missed seasons, he transferred to Florida State and finished and was able to make his way back on the field as a player. While the comeback is nothing short of miraculous, it was clear that Milton was not the same player anymore.
Milton played his final game in the 2022 Hula Bowl, which was held in the Bounce House — A fitting way to close out his playing career.
So what now?
During this time, Milton has embraced the new landscape of name, image, and likeness, also known as NIL. He got involved with Dreamfield Sports, a company designed to function as a NIL marketplace. He helped launch NIL collectives at UCF with Mission Control and Florida State with Warpath 850. These collectives allow fans to sign on to memberships that allow them access to players that have signed on. This includes chats, social events, and more. This has become a focal point for Milton.
There's also family. Milton recently got married and is expecting his first child later this year.
The desire to become a coach is still there, but it's taken a bit of a backseat. UCF head coach Gus Malzahn offered Milton a graduate assistant role, but it was declined at this time. That's not to say he won't become a coach, but you can only do so much and he's chosen to focus on NIL for the time being.
While his playing career has come to a close, fans can take solace in knowing his involvement with the UCF Knights is far from over.