When you hear that Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton has been cleared to play again, it’s hard not to have at least a little bit of skepticism. How can a player who was knocked out of the game last year last year prove he can do more than just play again?
Florida State’s recent quarterback transfer McKenzie Milton was not a name as familiar as those of other transfer quarterbacks as he was making his debut as a starter for the Seminoles. However, after a few weeks of competition, it became clear that Milton was a top-10 dual-threat quarterback in college football. Last Saturday, Milton made a statement to the rest of the world that he can not only play well, but also win games. During a 34-3 blow-out victory over the LSU Tigers, the Seminoles’ sophomore signal caller threw for a career-high 392 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
Florida State’s NCAA record-setting 2017 season ended in heartbreak, but that did not stop Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton from proving he can do more than just play. It was less than a week after the Seminoles lost the Peach Bowl to Oklahoma that Milton was named the MVP of the Under Armour Senior Bowl. The Tallahassee native was the star of the week’s practices and ended up having the best all-around performance of any quarterback in the game.
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – A small group of family members and friends waited for McKenzie Milton in the parking lot outside the Florida State football facility in the near dark late Sunday night, illuminated only by the lights of the neighboring practice field, nearly an hour after he played in his first game in over 1,000 days.
Milton reappeared, carrying a portable massager, and made his way to his family. Michael, his brother, was embraced by him. Then he saw his father.
Milton’s eyes welled up with emotions as he replied, “Happy Birthday, Dad.” “I’m in love with you.”
Dr. Bruce Levy, one of the orthopedic doctors who assisted Milton in his comeback to the field, was the next to arrive. “Doctor, this is your job out there!” He was informed by Milton.
Milton embraced everyone who had waited until almost 1 a.m. to see him, a small fraction of the 70 or so fans who had come out to watch him suit up for the Seminoles.
They were astounded by the remarkable return that was now complete.
Milton, 34 months away from a horrific accident that almost resulted in the amputation of his right leg, came off the bench and played as if he had missed no time at all, leading Florida State back from a 10-point hole and forcing overtime against Notre Dame before the Seminoles fell 41-38. Despite the sad conclusion, there was a sense of hope in the air, which has been lacking at Florida State recently. It was due to what fans and others saw unfolding in front of their eyes.
“It was strange and heartbreaking. ‘Did this really happen?’ I kept wondering “Milton sustained artery and nerve damage to his right leg, a dislocated knee, and damaged ligaments in a game on Nov. 23, 2018, and Levy was one of the orthopedic surgeons who helped him return to the field.
Levy brought his whole family to Tallahassee. He had no choice but to come. After all, he told Milton that if he played again, he would be there in person. Because of the severity of the injury, Levy told him from the start that he may not be able to play football.
Levy said, “We had that discussion the first day I met him.” “”Even if you magically return and accomplish something no one has ever done before,” I continued, “you’ll have to ask yourself, do you want to?” What was incredible was that there was never a moment of doubt. ‘Doc, I know I’m playing football again,’ he replied. I’m sure of it.’”
The surgeons in Tampa who saved Milton’s leg the night of the accident, the team of surgeons who work with Levy at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and Milton’s physicians and trainers at UCF, where the quarterback spent five years before transferring to Florida State, are also named in Levy’s statement.
When Milton’s leg was threatened by a serious infection for the second time in 2019, UCF orthopedic specialist Dr. Michael Jablonski and the physicians in Tampa rushed to his rescue once again. Meanwhile, Milton’s daily rehab was overseen by UCF head football trainer Mary Vander Heiden, who even went to his home to perform the exercises when Milton didn’t feel like coming to the facility.
McKenzie Milton, the Seminoles’ quarterback, played in his first game in almost three years on Sunday night, leading the Seminoles to OT against Notre Dame after a fourth-quarter comeback. Icon Sportswire/David Rosenblum
Tallahassee also hosted Jablonski and Vander Heiden. Sunday night, Vander Heiden had arguably the finest view, as she stood on the sidelines, waiting for the right time.
Milton competed in a quarterback battle this summer, thinking he was talented enough to start again, which was the only reason he departed UCF. Despite the fact that Jordan Travis started against Notre Dame, Milton remained prepared, often donning his helmet on the sideline, possibly as a subconscious message to the coaching staff to give him a chance.
The coaching staff had no option when Travis lost his helmet in the fourth quarter after a heavy collision. Travis had to leave the house for a game. With 8:48 left, the Milton family and 70 of their friends gathered in the club level to watch with nervous anticipation as No. 10 ran onto the field to loud applause. His father, Mark, and mother, Teresa, were certain that their kid was up to the task.
McKenzie Milton took the snap and hit Ja’Khi Douglas with a 22-yard dart. The audience exploded in applause. Travis could have returned to the game at that point, but Milton remained in for the whole drive. Florida State scored a touchdown seven plays later, and Milton celebrated with his teammates the way it was always intended to be.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to be in that position and be prepared to perform at the same level,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said. “McKenzie did it, and he did it very well. It was a sight to see.”
Vander Heiden and Levy were completely focused on Milton’s right leg, which was wearing a heavy brace, ensuring that his mobility was normal and anxiously monitoring when he was hit or sacked.
With 4:09 left, Milton stepped back in for the following drive, with the Seminoles down by three.
“Perhaps we’ll out-Rudy Notre Dame,” a family friend said to Milton’s father.
It was so close to happening. Despite McKenzie’s best efforts, the comeback failed. But the comeback is a triumph in and of itself: for Milton and Florida State, for UCF and college football, for everyone involved in his return, and for the fans he has touched throughout the country, from Orlando to Hawaii. For years to come, his comeback will be covered in sports and medical publications.
McKenzie Milton had a series of complicated operations in order to preserve his right leg and return to the field. ESPN’s Laura Heald
Mark Milton stated, “He never had any doubts, and that was the most essential thing.” “We never ceased pushing him to pursue his ambitions. We advised him to go ahead and do it.”
That kind of resolve isn’t easy to come by. Milton had to go through a lot of physical agony simply to get complete range of motion in his knee, which was required before he could be allowed to return, according to Levy. “I haven’t rebuilt any patients with this kind of damage that had anything near complete range of motion,” Levy added.
Levy simply grinned when he viewed the pictures of Milton getting his heel to contact his bottom and completing the job. Milton has surpassed all expectations at every step.
“I recall going over every single report from his triple jump, crossover jumps, vertical heights, isokinetic testing — everything you can think we test athletes to return,” Levy said. “He didn’t simply pass; he acquitted himself well. ‘I have no reason to hold you back,’ I told him, ‘since the statistics are fantastic.’ You’ve completed all of the tasks we’ve assigned to you. Now it’s only a question of whether you want to do it.’”
Milton’s desire to do so was evident to the whole country on Sunday night. Because he’s a natural at it. He knows how to put on a show. Because he understands how to improve the players around him. Because he has a contagious competitive spirit. Because he has a powerful will, a powerful heart, and a powerful intellect. He’s a winner, after all.
Even though it didn’t show up on the scoreboard, it was obvious to everyone inside Doak Campbell Stadium. “We simply need to play Milton more,” one supporter remarked.
Milton said that he was just thankful for the opportunity to participate. He didn’t know whether he’d be able to play, and neither did his parents. Maybe that’s why he didn’t have time to analyze his feelings. “It seemed like three years ago,” he recalled, “and I was just playing ball.”
His coaches will decide what happens next. Florida State, which has a short week to prepare for its next game on Saturday against FCS opponent Jacksonville State, has not responded to queries about who would start at quarterback.
Those inquiries, though, may be postponed until another day. The most important question, “Can Milton play again?” was answered on Sunday.
He’s capable of more than just playing. He has a chance to win.
- deondre francois
- florida seminoles