McKenzie Milton was making his way to be interviewed just outside of Burger U on the UCF main campus.
The company he co-founded, Dreamfield, was hosting a soft launch of its new UCF Knights-focused Name, Image, and Likeness program, “Mission Control,” with an event dubbed “Mission Comeback,” which Milton hosted. The event allowed UCF fans to meet the four UCF football players who were returning to the team next season as super seniors: RB Isaiah Bowser, OL Samuel Jackson, DL Anthony Montalvo, and LS Alex Ward.
Once his hosting duties were fulfilled, for the time being, he was able to break away from the hub of activity inside the restaurant to do an interview.
That is until a young fan approached him from behind, around mid-elementary school-aged.
She was holding a book, the cover depicting Milton as he celebrated with teammates after the Knights’ win over Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl to cap off their undefeated season. The book’s title “Perfect Knights,” is aligned at the bottom right.
Milton turned to excuse himself so he could fulfill the child’s request and promptly autographed the book.
“Seeing how the fans interact with KZ, it’s awesome, and that’s just the type of guy he is,” Jackson said. “It’s like when he’s back home, it just feels better out here.”
Milton’s return to the UCF campus comes courtesy of his participation in the Hula Bowl, a college football all-star game normally held in Milton’s native state, Hawaii. However, due to the game’s traditional venue, Aloha Stadium, ceasing the scheduling of new events in Dec. 2020, the 2022 edition of the game needed a new location. That location ended up being the Bounce House, per an agreement signed back in August.
The game, which is scheduled for a Noon kickoff Saturday on CBS Sports Network, will be Milton’s first time playing in the stadium since Nov. 17, 2018.
“It’s just like coming home,” Milton said.
In the three years since, as Milton progressed on his already well-documented journey to recovery, the sport he loved underwent significant changes around him. New NIL rules went into effect and new transfer rules were ratified, drastically changing the landscape of college athletics for the ones that played on the field.
Yet, as Montalvo tells it, he never lost his desire to help his athlete brethren, whether it’s on the practice field or navigating the new opportunities of the college athletics world.
“He’s looking out for all of us and trying to get us the best deal and given us a platform to, you know, step on and use it for the next level or wherever we want to go with it,” Montalvo said.
That help even transcends the bounds of life and death. Milton said he wanted to do something to continue to honor his late teammate, Otis Anderson. So, Milton announced on Jan. 4 that he will have a Hula Bowl After Party Meet & Greet Saturday evening, where all proceeds from the event, such as autographs signed by the quarterback, will be donated to Anderson’s family.
“He speaks about ‘Ohana’ and the guy genuinely is the most dedicated person to that term I’ve ever seen,” Dreamfield co-founder and CEO Luis Pardillo said.
While Milton said he will do as much as he can off the field, he is still “in the mindset of a player.” As such, his return is also about putting on a show for the NFL scouts that will attend the Hula Bowl.
“I know what I can still do with a football in my hand when I’m put in the right situations,” Milton said. “That’s why I’m gonna continue to do it. I feel like I owe it to myself.”
Milton will be competing for Team Aina, the Hawaiian word for “land,” alongside his former UCF teammate, OL Cole Schneider.
“I’m sure it’ll be a little emotional, but I’m just gonna let it rip and have fun just like I always do,” Milton said.
Milton takes the Bounce House Field one last time this Saturday at noon during the Hula Bowl. Tickets are available and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.