UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton running scout team, eyes return

UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton has started running the scout team for the Knights, the latest bit of progress in his quest to play again after a devastating leg injury nearly two years ago.

In his first extensive comments since his surgeon cleared him to resume practice, Milton told ESPN he feels "normal" now that he is back on the practice field and has experienced no problems with his surgically repaired knee.

"This is the most fun I've had in two years, being out there with the guys, going up against some good competition and lighting a fire under their butt," said Milton. "I'm making throws on the move, I'm changing direction not thinking twice about it. I feel normal."

Though he has no idea when he will play again, Milton remains confident that day will come. To further bolster his belief, Washington quarterback Alex Smith and Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater have offered words of encouragement, and Milton also points to the comeback Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith has made.

Milton said he unexpectedly got a text message from Smith recently, in which Smith just wanted to check in to see how he was doing. Smith sustained his own gruesome leg injury in 2018, requiring 17 surgeries and the near amputation of his leg, only to return to the field for the NFL team on Oct. 11.

Milton was injured against South Florida after a hit to his knee in 2018, dislocating his kneecap, tearing an artery, tearing ligaments and stretching a nerve. He also nearly had his leg amputated. Though their injuries are different, watching Smith take the field again gave him even more hope that he, too, will come back and make it to the NFL.

"Seeing him taking snaps again was unbelievable," Milton said. "Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Jaylon Smith, all those guys are motivation. Seeing them do it, there's no reason why I can't."

Milton went to see his surgeon in Minneapolis in August, and Milton says, "It was the first time he told me, 'You'll be able to play football again.' Hearing those words after a year and three-quarters, I'm just really grateful for all the help I've had with the medical staff, and obviously the healing hands of God, lots of prayers from Knight Nation and all across the world. I'm grateful for that, but I'm not satisfied. I'm going to continue to rehab and get better."

Milton continues his knee rehab, focusing on trying to get his full range of motion back. Other than that, "I'm doing everything a normal athlete does," he said.

Milton said he approached the coaches about taking on the job of scout team quarterback so he could start getting live reps again. Before that, he was not doing much in practice. The coaches and training staff gave him the go ahead to do it. Though this is the first time he has been the scout team quarterback at any level, he is finding enjoyment out of it because he is back on the field.

Whether he gets into a game is another question. UCF starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel has played outstanding so far this season. Last week in a loss to Memphis, Gabriel threw for 601 yards and five touchdowns. Gabriel and Milton are both from Hawaii and are extremely close. They room together on the road, and Milton has offered his advice, friendship and words of encouragement, knowing that the more success Gabriel has, the less his chances are of possibly playing.

"My plan for this year is to continue to rehab and if my number's called, my number's called, but I'm going to continue down the path and be the best teammate I can," said Milton, who is a redshirt senior and has another year of eligibility available. "We're 2-2. We've got to shake back and try to get in the race to win our conference. I'm going to do my best to get our scout team rolling and get our defense some good looks and continue to help the guys in the quarterback room. I'd love to play, but DG's rolling so that's our guy. We're going to keep rolling with him.

"It's been fun to watch him do his thing. He's shattering records already, and he's going to continue to do that. He's the right guy for our team right now."

Still, Milton admits it is hard having to watch from the sideline, but he long ago accepted his role.

"The competitor in me always wants to play, but at the same time I don't take it for granted," Milton said. "It's been a blessing having the role of being scout team quarterback for these guys. It's been fun to watch Dillon, but yeah, it's hard not playing, but I know my time will come one way or the other, just staying patient, working on my craft getting better each day."