Today was a day many knew was coming: UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton has entered the transfer portal and is leaving the football program. It wasn’t a question of if, but of when. To others who were more in denial of the possibility of him transferring to another school, they created a notion where Milton would stay and start while two year incumbent Dillon Gabriel would redshirt. I have not been shy in saying this is was a terrible idea for a multitude of reasons.
The truth is that Milton transferring is as much for Gabriel as it is for himself. To Gabriel, who came to UCF largely because of Milton, it allows him to continue his collegiate career at UCF without restraint. Gabriel, who followed Milton at Mililani High School, also followed him to UCF and in both cases, shattered throwing records Milton had set. Gabriel is on pace to be statistically, one of, if not the most prolific quarterback in UCF Knights history. Gabriel already owns the record for most 400 yard passing games at UCF and is on pace to set a bunch of other records depending on if he plays one or two more season with the Knights. While Milton is not first in any passing statistical category, his impact on the team, school, and fans cannot be ignored. By transferring, he is able to use his last year of eligibility to help prove to the NFL that he can play on Sundays after spending the last two years rehabilitating from a devastating dislocated knee that nearly led to an amputation.
I have a two and a half year old and a subscription to HBO Max. What does that mean? It means plenty of Elmo and Sesame Street among other things. Aside from the lessons Sesame Street teaches kids, the show always has had a specific number and letter of the day. Obviously, the number of the day is 10, which has been Milton’s during his tenure at UCF. The letter is less obvious, but after some consideration, the letter of the day is “C”.
Chasing the Dream
In the end, McKenzie Milton, like the rest of us, has to look out for his best interest. He wants to play in the NFL and the only way to convince teams that he has recovered enough to play is to get on the field. That isn’t going to happen at UCF with Dillon Gabriel firmly entrenched as the starter. It is through Milton’s COMPASSION that he realized and decided that competing against Gabriel and potentially stymying his collegiate career is not the way. The only other option is to transfer. The good thing about entering the transfer portal now is that he’s able to take his time, look at his options, and make a calculated decision. He’s going to look for a school where he can start, but also have a competent enough offensive line to keep him upright. His COMPETITIVE SPIRIT is what pushed him to fight through his injury and rehabilitation and what will drive him to be as successful as possible on his new team.
Even if the NFL doesn’t happen, it doesn’t invalidate the journey towards that goal. It also opens other avenues. I expect at some point, be it sooner or later, Milton will begin his hopefully long and successful coaching career.
Conquering the Limitations
That’s what this is about. A man of weaker CONSTITUTION would find it easy to give in to defeat. No one wants their story to end on that kind of note, but the work to go from below ground zero to the top is long and hard. Through his CONVICTION, passion, faith, and support from the UCF family, he’s been able to pull himself up the ladder of life. At first, it was with just his arms as his leg heals. It was slow and exhausting. As his leg healed, his climb began to speed up as his body became more in tune with itself and its new reality. Watching Milton go down on that fateful November day in 2018, I put my own personal narrative about my sport injuries. That personal narrative can be found here. It’s a long read about the struggles through the road of recovery, but it’s my story. I only wish I had a fraction of the love and support Knight nation has given Milton when I went through my rehabilitation because the amount that has poured his way has been nothing short of torrential. Niagara Falls would be jealous at the deluge of love. Trust me, that makes a world of difference.
Creating a Legacy
Something I do on the side is work as an advisor in a youth organization aimed primarily at teenagers. When I have to peddle adults for money or support, I use legacy as a major talking point. When our time comes and we leave, be it school or life, what do we want our legacy to be? How do we want to be remembered?
Legacy is a powerful tool. It’s legacy that built up blue blood programs. It’s legacy to keeps them continually relevant, even during down years. It’s legacy that creates sustainable fan bases and school traditions. Legacy is the foundation on which future success is built on.
McKenzie Milton showed a COMMITMENT to UCF not only by signing the dotted line of his national letter of intent and coming to campus, but by not giving in to despair after he and his team were booed off the field at halftime of the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl. He could have left UCF. He even once said he considered it. However, he ultimately used the anger and disappointment he carried as motivation to hone in on his craft, using the offseason to analyze his flaws and work with his coaches to improve his game. The results the next year speak for themselves. It didn’t matter if Scott Frost or Josh Heupel was the head coach, Milton was committed on working to get better. Even after his injury, Milton became a de facto quarterback coach and was committed to work with Dillon Gabriel. Milton was part of the team and their success was also his success.
During the Knights’ historic 2017 run and through 2018, UCF, using Milton as a front man, were working on CHANGING THE NARRATIVE. UCF, like others of the so-called Group of Five, have been viewed as second class citizens in the realm of FBS football. UCF, behind athletic direct Danny White, had enough and made their voice heard and created a level of background noise that has yet to go away. This year, schools like Cincinnati, BYU, and Coastal Carolina have picked up the mantle and are making noise about equity and inclusion into an invitational system that doesn’t really want them, but controls everything.
Cherishing the Memories
The team is a sum of the whole. They win together and lose together. The fans live through their hard work and dedication. Many fans, ranging from students to alums to just people who like the Knights program, they use the term “we”. It’s through that passion that we are all able to experience the joys and sorrows that come from competition. At the pinnacle of Milton’s career at UCF, the Knights were able to claim a share of a national championship(For any naysayers, the NCAA backs and recognizes UCF’s claim). Winning CHAMPIONSHIPS in any sport is not easy.
The American Athletic Conference Championship Game in 2018 showed me something I had only seen once at UCF(the red bandana game against Boston College in 2011). The fans had a huge sense of unity and put it on full display by wearing leis in honor of Milton the week following his injury. This energy was so infectious, even players were sucked in and wore leis of their own under the pads. They had Milton’s unused jersey on the sidelines while he was unable to attend. It helped propel a team missing their field general into world beaters that would not be denied and ended up hoisting their second consecutive AAC championship trophy in the Bounce House. Today, we still sometimes see leis at game. The term 10hana is well known as a tribute to Milton’s Hawaiian heritage. As Lilo and Stitch taught us. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” That CAMARADERIE between teammates and even among strangers in attendance at a UCF football game is a game changer. I’ve been involved with UCF since 2001 as a member of the Marching Knights. I’ve seen the lows of two winless seasons and the highs of multiple conference championships and a national championship. I use this perspective while following the evolution of UCF as a school and as an athletics program. While truly Under Construction Forever, the means the work to become better never ends. Milton personifies that concept and should inspire others to do the same. The fact that the AAC commissioner, Mike Aresco, made an official statement about Milton shows everyone how big of an impact he has had beyond just UCF.
As I previously noted, the love and support the UCF family gave Milton has been astronomical. My personal hope is that this change becomes engrained in UCF’s CULTURE perpetually. It wasn’t always that way. I still remember in 2003 when the ambulance had to drive on the field to get linebacker Antoine Poe to the hospital after a neck injury. He never got the level of support Milton received. What a difference fifteen years can make. While there is no tomorrow for Milton as a player at UCF, we all can remember and enjoy the memories and emotions that were shared along the way.
So as McKenzie Milton moves on to find an opportunity that works for him, hopefully the C’s he brought to the table make us all better as people and fans.