According to QB coach Jeff Lebby, UCF is not ruling out the possibility, however remote, that McKenzie Milton could actually play football in the 2019 season.
When asked by ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss at a Fiesta Bowl press conference on Saturday whether Milton playing in 2019 after his devastating knee injury against South Florida, UCF Knights QB coach Jeff Lebby said, “Yeah, I think so.”
UCF Knights won't rule out McKenzie Milton for 2019 season https://t.co/zarhEw7FRc— Josh Weinfuss (@joshweinfuss) December 29, 2018
Here’s the full exchange with Lebby from the press availability:
Q: What’s the latest on McKenzie Milton?
A: McKenzie is here with us. He’s had great reports. Every single doctor’s visit has gone really good. Been really well. We;re looking forward to him getting healthy.
Q: What’s the next step for him?
A: The next step for him is rehab. He’ll go back in late January and have another surgery. Rehab until then and get ready to roll. But he’s done really, really good. It is great having him around us every single day and that part has been good.
Q: Is next season possible at all?
A: Yeah, I think so. We’ll wait and see, but again, I think it’s day-to-day with him. That’s just the reality of it, and working through it all with him and our medical staff and seeing where it goes.
Q: Are you going to request the medical redshirt for him?
A: Yeah, it is all day to day. It is how he’s feeling, how the surgery goes, all of those things. We’ve got to get a lot of things done before we get to that point.
UPDATE: On Sunday, Josh Heupel was asked the same question. Here’s his response in full:
Q. Coach, what has McKenzie Milton’s impact been on preparation for the team, having him here this week? Also, one of your assistant coaches mentioned yesterday he believes Milton will play football again. Is that a universal belief among the coaching staff?
COACH HEUPEL: Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind that McKenzie will be back on the football field playing at a really high level. Traumatic injury. Everybody across the country saw that when it happened. He’s got a bunch of hurdles to still clear to get back on the football field. But everything that has unfolded has pretty much been best-case scenario. He’s well on his way back to rehabbing it and getting better and being in position to eventually get back on the football field.
Him being here, he’s a big part of who and what we are as a program. He’s been a leader for us since I got here in January. He was a big part of creating the buy-in. Him inside of our meeting room has been beneficial to D.J. (Darriel Mack), to Quadry [Jones] and to Hayden [Kingston].
He’s had some impact on the game plan as far as what we’re doing. He’s been engaged and involved in the process. Him being able to be out here and share in this experience is important because he’s a big part of our success this season. He’s been with our medical staff a lot, getting a lot of treatment, but been able to be out on the practice field with us, typically riding around in a golf cart, but being engaged in the entire process for us. So it’s been a lot of fun having him here.
Milton is with the team in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl. But after the game, he is slated to go under the knife for the fifth time since the injury. His mother Teresa noted that his next operation will focus on the nerves in his leg - a critical step in his recovery:
Good Morning Night Nation yesterday was a good day! McKenzie went through EMG nerve conduction study .Painful but so hopeful. Recovery has started , the key of his up coming surgery is the nerves. Please keep praying specificalliy for that. Thank U Dr Ziddel and— TeresaMilton (@milton6teresa) December 22, 2018
It seems almost unbelievable that anyone in UCF’s camp would even entertain the idea of Milton playing less than one year after suffering an injury that threatened amputation. It’s also important to note that this was coaches speaking, and not a medical expert.
However, if anyone can recover well enough from an injury of this magnitude, it’s Milton. He’s young (he turned 22 on October 10th), and he’s a college athlete, so he’s in very good shape.
It also bears noting, as mentioned in the press conference with Lebby, that Milton could redshirt in 2019 to give himself more time to recover, get back into football shape, and possibly play in 2020. 2018 was his junior season, so he has one more year of regular eligibility left.
It’s far too early to speculate about whether this could happen, and yet here we are doing exactly that. But if anything that can go well will, then perhaps UCF fans can be cautiously optimistic about the possibility of McKenzie Milton at least giving it a good go to get back on the field at some point in the future.