Are you ready for some rampant speculation and a parsing of words and body language? I am.
During this morning’s media availability, UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel was asked about McKenzie Milton. He wasn’t asked whether he thought he was going to play this week versus the South Florida Bulls; rather, he was asked if there has been any chatter about KZ returning to the scene of his horrific knee injury two years ago. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll present both the question and Gabriel’s answer in its entirety — because it was very interesting.
Q: Dillon, this was the game two years ago when McKenzie got hurt. Has there been any talk this week with him about maybe coming back to the place? I mean, I know no one really wants to think about it, but it’s kind of a milestone, knowing that he’s getting closer (or maybe “closure”) to coming back as a player. It’s kind of significant, this game.
Gabriel: “I mean, if I was a fan, I’d want it to be a surprise, you know? So, I can’t — I can’t say yes, I can’t say no. We’ll just see. We’ll see what happens. But I know Kenzie is doing great mentally and physically, and he’s ready to do so whenever he’s ready to do so. So, I’m gonna let that just be it and see what happens.”
Well, that couldn’t just be it because while that answer may not seem like much on the surface, Gabriel had this cheshire-cat grin on his face for almost his entire response. His body language speaks volumes. And again notice that Gabriel wasn’t asked explictly about Milton’s playing status, yet he answered it as if he was. Also keep in mind that Gabriel and Milton are the very best of friends.
I asked a follow-up question about Milton a couple of minutes later:
Q: I just wanted to follow-up and say should fans be watching out for something? I know you don’t want to give it away, but ...
Gabriel: “I would just be honest, you know what I mean, there’s a bunch of surprises. I would just sit back and see. I’m not saying he is, I’m not saying he isn’t. I’m just saying who knows, you know what I mean? So, we’ll see.”
You can see Dillon’s responses in the video below, uploaded by Brandon Helwig at UCFSports.com. The KZ questions begin at 4:40 and 7:42. Just focus on his facial expressions.
Now, to bring us all back down to terra firma for just a minute, this wouldn’t be the first time this season that a member of the UCF Football team teased something that didn’t happen. And I know UCF fans don’t want to get their hopes raised only to see them dashed come game day. I remember the chaotic scene on some message boards before the Memphis game a few weeks ago when someone said that McKenzie was going to play because his full uniform was in his locker. That turned out to be nothing because UCF always puts Miton’s full uniform in his locker.
But if there was ever a game this season in which a Milton return made the most sense, it would be this one, right? The symmetry alone is perfect. He takes a snap on the field where his career nearly ended two years earlier. And maybe one snap is all it is. Milton is not going to supplant Gabriel and play the full game. Perhaps he comes out to hand off the ball on the first play. Maybe he throws just one short pass. Maybe he takes the final knee while the Knights are in victory formation as the clock runs out.
But one play would be enough. Hell, just seeing Milton suit up in full pads during pregame warmups would be enough.
We will talk to head coach Josh Heupel on Tuesday, and I’m confident he won’t say anything concrete either way, but he will assuredly be asked about Milton’s status. Gabriel’s words and horrible poker face have guaranteed that.
Will Milton actually play? To quote Gabriel, I can’t say yes, I can’t say no. We’ll just see.
But it might be prudent to remember Milton’s final words from his College GameDay feature this past weekend: “I believe I’ll play football again.”