McKenzie Milton playing his way into FSU’s QB competition
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - McKenzie Milton was greeted with a roar of applause from about 10,000 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday as he trotted out onto the field for his first series in Florida State’s annual Garnet and Gold spring game.
Fans finally got to take a look at Milton in an FSU uniform Saturday for the first time since he arrived in Tallahassee as a grad transfer from UCF. He will compete with Jordan Travis and two second-year signal-callers in Tate Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy for Florida State’s starting quarterback job in 2021.
The fact that Milton is even in the position to do so is a minor miracle.
In November 2018, Milton suffered a gruesome injury to his right leg on a read-option play against USF where he was sandwiched by two defenders. The forceful hit dislocated his right knee, caused two ligaments to tear and left behind inauspicious nerve damage.
Milton was rushed to the hospital and was uncertain he would still have his leg when he woke up from surgery. The surgery was successful but it took him several days to regain any feeling in his leg.
His initial prognosis was that he might not ever be able to play football again, but Milton gradually worked his way back up to speed.
With Dillon Gabriel now firmly entrenched as UCF’s starter, Milton announced his decision to head to Florida State as a grad transfer in December. After a long rehab process, he was finally cleared to fully participate in FSU’s spring practice. Saturday marked his first time playing in front of fans in over two years.
“I don’t take it for granted at all, the past couple of years,” Milton said following Saturday’s game. “Just a blessing to be out there. And just a blessing to be wearing this logo, it’s something I’ll cherish for this next year. And just have fun with it.”
Milton predictably experienced some growing pains throughout the spring. He had to juggle learning a new offensive scheme with trying to rediscover how to play at full speed after having not done so for a couple of years.
He was inconsistent during scrimmages in the weeks leading up to Saturday, at least during the portions available for media members to watch. However, his confidence evidently increased as Florida State moved closer to Saturday’s game. He looked more comfortable in Florida State’s offense, began distributing the ball with better precision and timing, and, perhaps most importantly, he began to look more confident moving around on his right leg.
In Florida State’s last couple of practices before Saturday, there were several times where scrambled and made defenders miss in the open field. He began to make more plays reminiscent of the player who accounted for 92 touchdowns and nearly 10,000 yards of total offense in three seasons as UCF’s starting quarterback.
“It’s just continued growth,” Florida State head coach Mike Norvell said after Saturday’s game. “I thought Thursday’s practice was one of the best practices that he’s had. That should happen with more repetition, that comfort, that understanding. He’s a very seasoned player.”
Milton led scoring drives in each of his first two series Saturday. On his first series, he converted two third-down passes en route to a seven-play, 48-yard touchdown drive. His best sequence of the afternoon came when he lofted a pretty 27-yard completion down the right sideline to freshman receiver Malik McClain, who made an excellent diving catch.
On the very next play, he found Bryan Robinson on a perfectly placed back-shoulder throw at the goal line in tight coverage for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
His best throw of the day was a 39-yard completion down the seam to freshman receiver Joshua Burrell in stride.
Milton is trending in the right direction as the spring comes to a close, even if he doesn’t want to admit it just yet.
“I don’t know because I feel like you can’t base everything off of one day or two days,” Milton said. “Because when you start feeling good about yourself, you might get complacent. So, I feel like we made some plays out there today, the guys kind of made us look good, making contested plays, like BRob and Malik. There’s still some things I need to clean up, offensively we need to clean up and really the whole team. So, it’s good to finish off on a good note, but at the same time still got a lot of work to do.”
Florida State’s coaching staff has lauded Milton for his leadership since he arrived in Tallahassee. He has quickly blended in with the rest of the locker room and has created an intriguing quarterback situation heading into the summer.
Travis had a terrific spring after flashing some tantalizing potential in six games last season. He seems to be the favorite to win the job as of now, but Milton no longer seems too far behind. Rodemaker and Purdy are both talented younger passers, but right now it is a two-man race between Travis and Milton. Both have embraced the competition with one another throughout spring ball.
“We had four guys going into it every day, just giving 100 percent,” Travis said. “We’re just trying to get better. I think competition, I think your biggest competition is yourself every day. You don’t really look at it as a big competition. So we’re just trying to get each other better because we’re teammates at the end of the day.”
“The biggest competition is yourself because you can’t control what the other guys are doing out there,” Milton concurred. “But it has been good, it has been a blessing just to kind of learn from each other…I think kind of taking some things from each other’s games. And I feel like we’re all getting better out there.”
Norvell was noncommittal on the quarterback situation after the game and said the competition will continue into the summer.
There is still a long way to go between now and Florida State’s first game on Sept. 5 against Notre Dame, but Milton’s progress since joining the program a few months ago has been one of the most notable storylines in all of college football.
He has gone from being a longshot to ever play again to a serious contender for Florida State’s starting quarterback job in 2021.
“You got to take everything with a grain of salt and just keep harping on getting better. Because if you think you’re great for throwing a touchdown, you’re gonna have a rude awakening come season time. Fine-tuning the details and always just finding an edge to try and get better. And I feel like our team’s hungry. We’re trying to do that day in and day out.”
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