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McKenzie Milton ‘passed the torch’ to Dillon Gabriel. Can he handle the heat?

“It’s DG’s team now.” 

Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) warms up as quarterback McKenzie Milton watches before the team’s NCAA college football game against the Tulsa, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

McKenzie Milton leaves a lot of things behind as he bids farewell to UCF: a National Championship title, a half-a-million fans and a trailblazing true sophomore quarterback.

“It’s DG’s team now,” Milton said of Dillon Gabriel.

Milton announced Thursday he would enter the transfer portal to finish his college football career elsewhere. Although the decision did not come as a complete shock, he placed a lot of power in the hands of Gabriel.

Gabriel’s success and future in football played a major role in Milton’s decision to leave UCF, he said in a farewell video.

“There’s no reason — whether it’s a five-star recruit coming in, whether it’s me coming off the injury — he should have to even be put in a position to compete,” Milton said. “He’s earned that right to be our QB.”

Milton also said he didn’t want to “slow down his momentum,” because Gabriel has a good chance of being a top NFL Draft pick next year.

Stanford v Central Florida
ORLANDO, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 14: Lokahi Pauole #75, Dillon Gabriel #11, Jet Toner #26, and McKenzie Milton #10 pose for a picture after a football game between the UCF Knights and the Stanford Cardinal at Spectrum Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Milton and Gabriel’s relationship starts long before the Bounce House — they were teammates in Hawaii at Mililani High School. Gabriel was a freshman and Milton was a senior.

“Their relationship goes back so far … they have great respect and love for one another, and I really don’t want anything to come in between that,” head coach Josh Heupel said.

When Milton made it to the mainland with a spot on the Knights’ offense, Gabriel had just one offer from Army. That all changed when he broke Tua Tagovailoa’s passing record. Milton was able to convince Heupel to extend an official visit offer to Gabriel. But it wasn’t until his visit to Georgia when the UCF Knights made the second-coming Hawaiian quarterback an offer.

Gabriel signed with UCF on Dec. 19, 2018.

“The touch Dillon was able to put on the ball at a young age, he was doing stuff I wasn’t able to do until my junior year of high school,” Milton told ESPN. “He was still raw fundamentally and I’m sure the game was a little faster at the time, but he was playing at an extremely high level.”

Milton’s leg injury in November 2018 blew the QB room wide open, and Gabriel was a contender, along with Darriel Mack Jr. and Quadry Jones. Mack started in three games his freshman season (2018) and appeared in nine games his sophomore season (2019). Gabriel was the Knights go-to guy, however.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at South Florida
Nov 27, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) runs the ball for a touchdown against the South Florida Bulls during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Mike Watters
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Gabriel started in 12 games his freshman season (2019) and in all games his sophomore season (2020). He broke records left and right, including:

  • Most passing yards in a season for a UCF freshman
  • Ranks fourth overall nationally in passing yards per completion
  • Ranks fourth overall on UCF’s single-season passing list
  • Most yards per completion in AAC
  • Best 2019 AAC single-game yards per attempt
  • Became first UCF player with back-to-back games of 400 passing yards
  • Most consecutive pass completions (18)
  • Second UCF player to throw for five touchdowns in back-to-back games

It’s no doubt that Gabriel’s resume is impressive as a true sophomore quarterback. Milton’s passing of the torch might just prove that he’s equipped to lead the Knights to victory next season. But Milton said he wasn’t the one doing all the teaching.

“Wherever I go,” Milton said, “I’m gonna take some tools I’ve learned from him and try to apply that to my game.”

Daniella Medina is a contributing writer for Black & Gold Banneret. Follow her on Twitter @danimedinanews.