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McKenzie Milton returns home to UCF for Hula Bowl, eyes NFL future

                                Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton stays warm while the defense is on the field during a game on Nov. 6.


    Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton stays warm while the defense is on the field during a game on Nov. 6.

ORLANDO, Fla. >> The solitary cry sliced through the quiet that had enveloped the practice fields on the UCF campus Wednesday afternoon. The call to arms drew a response from the more than 100 former college football players in attendance, sending them into a cascade of rhythmic stomping and slapping.

All eyes were forward as the players participated in a traditional haka, a ceremonial dance used in many Polynesian cultures to prepare warriors for battle.

While the Hawaiian Islands may be 4,700 miles away from Central Florida, that didn’t stop the organizers of the Hula Bowl — an annual collegiate all-star game — from sharing a little piece of home with those players participating in Saturday’s game at the Bounce House Stadium.

A Mililani High graduate, McKenzie Milton had seen a haka performed before, but this was the first time he participated in one.

“I never learned how to do it, so I’m learning right now as well,” Milton said.

Milton’s far from his home of Kapolei on the island of Oahu, but he’s back at the next best thing, spending the week on the UCF campus. Milton spent five years of his life as the quarterback of the Knights, leading the program to new heights, including a perfect season in 2017 and a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

“It’s home,” said Milton, sporting the No. 10 jersey that he made famous during his time in Orlando. “It’s great being out here, and I love it here.”

Milton led UCF to a 27-6 record from 2016-18 before suffering a devastating knee injury that required emergency surgery as doctors needed to repair damaged nerves and restore blood flow to his lower right leg. The injury nearly forced doctors to amputate his leg.

After multiple surgeries and several years of rehabilitation, Milton took over as quarterback for UCF’s scout team before announcing his transfer to Florida State. He appeared in six games for the Seminoles, including four starts, with 775 yards passing with three touchdowns and six interceptions.

Milton said while he benefited from the decision to transfer in the long run, things didn’t necessarily go exactly how he imagined they would.

“In terms of getting back on the field, yes,” said Milton. “But honestly, it didn’t go the way I wanted it to in terms of playing. I would caution guys to be smart and particular about the decisions they make because sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

Milton earned praise for his time at Florida State, particularly by the coaching staff, which felt his veteran presence in the quarterback room was beneficial for playmakers like Jordan Travis.

But Milton is adamant that there are no second thoughts on his decision.

“Not at all. I don’t second guess it at all,” said Milton. “I had a great opportunity up there, and it just didn’t go the way I planned. I learned from some outstanding coaches and made great relationships with teammates. So I don’t regret anything.”

Milton’s focus is now on the future, particularly one in the NFL, as he looks to make an impression on some of the 100 scouts on hand for this week’s game.

“You’ve just got to go out there and be yourself,” Milton said. “Perform as if thousands of people are watching, which is how it is in the game. So it’s nothing different.

“Everything you put on film is your job interview as well. So it’s just trying to maximize every rep, even when I’m not in there, get mental reps, too. But it’s been a good learning experience for sure.”

Milton has no idea what’s in store for him, but heplans to participate in FSU’s Pro Day and possibly one at UCF.

“I’m just hoping that opportunity comes,” he said. “It just depends on if it’s right for me and if it’s right for my family, so we’ll see.”


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