Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton is finally ready for the talk to be about football, not his career-altering leg injury. Wednesday, the sophomore quarterback underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. It was the same injury that ended the season of LSU’s Danny Etling in late September of last year.

When McKenzie Milton played at Lake Brantley High School, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the state of Florida. The 2015 Lake Brantley graduate threw for over 3,000 yards in his senior year. During that campaign, Milton was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year for Florida, Florida Sportsman of the Year, Florida Class AAA Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Co-Mr. Football, Offensive MVP of the Year, Offense MVP of the Year, MVP of the Year, Team MVP of the Year, and selected to the All-State First Team Offense.

McKenzie Milton is finally ready for the talk to be about football, not his career-altering leg injury.

[Editor’s note: Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton played in his first game since a devastating leg injury almost three years ago threatened to ruin his career. This article was written before the game versus Notre Dame.]

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – McKenzie Milton gets right down to work, listing all of the reasons he feels at ease with the new playbook, as well as his new coaches and teammates at Florida State.

Milton hasn’t addressed his knee in the first ten minutes of the discussion. The discourse surrounding Milton has changed, despite the fact that the devastating injury that put his career on hold almost three years ago is never far from his thoughts. It isn’t a question of whether Milton will be able to play again. No, the big question is whether he’ll play in the season opener versus Notre Dame on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App).

Coach Mike Norvell didn’t say whether Milton or Jordan Travis would start until just before kickoff, which only added to the excitement. Travis was the one who got the job.

The fact that Milton has a chance to play is a medical and personal miracle, a remarkable recovery in every way. No one could have predicted what would happen on Sunday when Milton collapsed into the grass in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 23, 2018, and could not get up. Milton will sprint onto a new home field, with 79,000-plus supporters performing the Tomahawk Chop to welcome a new season.

Doctors thought Milton would be able to walk without a limp, much alone play football, after he sustained artery and nerve damage to his leg, a dislocated knee, and damaged ligaments. But Milton persisted, pushing limits and boundaries to get to today, despite setbacks and surgeries, as well as travels back and forth to a specialist in Minnesota.

Nothing has been simple. Rather than staying at UCF as a backup, he decided to go in pursuit of one final opportunity to start. Rather of attending a lesser school, he took on a greater task by enrolling at a Power 5 school in urgent need of a quarterback savior to help turn around its team. Milton does not see himself as a savior, but he is confident in his ability to play at a high level and contribute to Florida State. Milton just wants the opportunity to prove he can still play quarterback on his own terms, whether it’s against Notre Dame or in another game this season.

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In an interview with ESPN, Milton stated, “If I’m going to play, I’m going to be full-go, I’m going to be better than I was or just as good.” “You don’t receive what you deserve; you get what you earn,” says the narrator.

Last season, when Milton took over as coach of the UCF scout team, it became apparent that he might play again. Milton was asked if he wanted to play against USF in Tampa in late November by then-coach Josh Heupel, two years after the accident that almost lost him his leg. Milton declined.

Milton began to consider leaving UCF for a shot at a starting position at that point. Florida State made the most sense since it was in the same state as UCF and needed quarterback assistance after four years of inconsistency at the position.

Norvell made no guarantees regarding the starting position, but he did assure Milton that he would be given every chance to compete. Even though the Seminoles returned three quarterbacks with experience, including Travis, who started six games last season and appeared in 12 throughout his FSU career, taking Milton was a no-brainer. Norvell also had an open discussion with Travis, explaining why he wanted to sign Milton. With his leadership and work ethic in the locker room, he felt a veteran like Milton would elevate the quarterbacks, as well as the whole squad.

No one knew how Milton would react to competing for the first time in a quarterback battle since his rookie year at UCF in 2016, particularly with a rebuilt knee. Norvell, on the other hand, almost wept the first time he watched Milton roll out in practice.

“You see the effort, but when you realize the investment that’s gone into it, and to be able to go out there and just play free and see the lack of fear,” Norvell said, “it brought a smile to my face.” “It’s wonderful just to be able to have that chance.”

McKenzie Milton, who moved from UCF to FSU, may start against Notre Dame on Sunday. USA TODAY Sports’ Melina Myers

When Milton was throwing it for UCF in 2017 and 2018, Norvell was coaching at Memphis. Norvell, who was the head coach of Memphis at the time, saw Milton pass for 494 yards and five touchdowns in the Knights’ double-overtime victory in the 2017 American championship game, understands what’s possible. Norvell and Memphis faced UCF for the conference final in Orlando only days after Milton’s injury, but this time without Milton. Inside the stadium, though, the whole attention was on their injured quarterback. After UCF defeated Memphis for the second time, the squad dedicated the victory to Milton.

It’s also important to remember Milton’s long road to get here, which required every ounce of dedication and trust he could manage. After the helmet-to-knee collision created blood flow problems, he was on the verge of having his right leg amputated. He was so afraid he’d wake up without his leg after surgery that the first thing he did when he opened his eyes was to glance down and check.

Instead, he discovered a massive gash on his otherwise healthy left leg, where surgeons had taken a vein to help construct a new artery for his right leg in order to restore blood flow and preserve it. Two gashes, a mechanical device keeping everything in place, and blood-filled tubes protruded from his right leg. All of this did not deter him from wondering when he might return to football.

However, the nerve had to recover fully before that could happen, and there was no medical treatment that could assist. Only time will tell whether this is true. So Milton went to work, certain that he would be able to play again. Imagine laboring every hour, every day to get back to normal, with no way of knowing whether or not a nerve in your leg will ever operate correctly again.

Were there days when Milton refused to get out of bed? Days when he felt he was wasting his time or wished he could just give up football and go on with his life? Yes, of course. Milton, on the other hand, refused to give in to his feelings. Were there any challenges that put his commitment to the test? Yes, there were many. In the autumn of 2019, an illness threatened to ruin his recovery, as he lost weight and required antibiotics via a PICC line in his arm. When his nerve returned, his knee felt better, and he could run and throw again, he knew he wouldn’t be the UCF starting quarterback again, thanks to the rise of his closest buddy, Dillon Gabriel, another quarterback from Hawaii.

He gave himself a pep talk on days when he was feeling depressed. Alternatively, his relatives may have given him one. Or his personal trainers. Milton, against all odds, never took a day off.

Then Florida State presented him with a new beginning and a new viewpoint, a transformation he had not anticipated.

“After spending so much time in Orlando, it’s easy to make the choice to remain where you’re comfortable and know what to anticipate every day,” Milton said. “That was the most difficult task. From spring ball to summer training to autumn camp, it’s been a lot of fun. Here at Florida State, I’ve made a lot of new brothers.”

“I don’t consider what happened to him; instead, I consider who he is today. He’s been given the all-clear. He seems to be at ease. That’s all there is to it… He isn’t afraid to play. He is fearless in his play because he is completely at ease with where he is “”Yes, he is.” Kenny Dillingham, Florida State’s offensive coordinator, on FSU quarterback McKenzie Milton

Milton made it a point to get to know his new colleagues on a more intimate level outside of the weight room and practice field. Despite the fact that the scenario might have been uncomfortable for Travis, the two have developed a strong bond to the point where Travis considers Milton to be another coach.

“I’m learning from him every day,” Travis added, “getting small bits from him and just trying to apply it.” “He’s pushed me to stand up as a loud leader since I’m a quiet person. We had the whole offensive in a meeting one day, and he had me up on the board with the clicker, going through plays and teaching some of the players what they needed to know. He’s taught me the most crucial aspects of becoming a quarterback.”

Milton had to learn a whole new playbook in addition to integrating himself into the locker room. He believes there are some parallels to what he did offensively in his first two years in Orlando under former UCF coach Scott Frost, but the greatest difficulty has been learning new language and signals. “However, I feel like I’m now beginning to understand what the instructors are saying,” Milton added.

The difference between him and the other quarterbacks is, of course, his knee. During fall training camp, Florida State coaches were very careful not to overwork Milton by giving him too many repetitions. They gave Milton and Travis the same amount of repetitions when they could, but Milton received greater recovery time.

Milton must also put in more effort than his teammates in order to be ready for practice. Milton is in the training room every morning at 6:15 a.m., two hours before practice starts, for what he refers to as “prehab.” He spends a lot of time in the water performing hip mobility exercises to loosen up his body. Milton does stretching exercises to remain flexible before he walks upstairs for pre-practice meetings, something he did before his injury. He keeps doing what he did previously since it worked so well. And he does the same thing for his left knee as he does for his right. His shoulders, too, must be strong and steady if he is to play at an exceptional level. He is well aware that it has been three years since he has utilized his shoulders on a regular basis as a quarterback.

McKenzie Milton had a series of complicated operations in order to preserve his right leg and return to the field. ESPN’s Laura Heald

Given all of these considerations, Milton’s ability to compete for a starting position is extraordinary. It took almost three years to get here? “The days are long, but the years are brief,” as Milton likes to put it.

“I look at what he is today, not what happened to him,” Florida State offensive coach Kenny Dillingham said. “He’s been cleared completely.” He seems to be at ease. That’s all there is to it. People on the outside stared at the damage and wondered what would happen if a regular person had the same harm.

“But he’s not like the rest of us. He’s a unique individual. His knee is in excellent shape. His natural instincts take over when he feels well, and he doesn’t worry about his knee. He’s thinking about everything he’s done in his life, and that’s what makes me feel at peace and calm about it. He isn’t afraid to play. He is fearless in his play because he is completely at ease with where he is “”Yes, he is.”

In the end, the issue is whether Milton has put in enough practice time to earn a starting spot. On the depth chart heading into the Notre Dame game, he and Travis have “or” next to their names.

When questioned about his choice, Norvell stated, “I have a tremendous lot of faith in what McKenzie is going to do, and I have a great deal of confidence in how he’s going to prepare.” “But, at the end of the day, it’s not just about him getting a rep; it’s about him doing what he’s done his whole life and earning that rep, and that’s what I told him when he first came here, and that’s what it’ll be. I can guarantee you, he wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what makes him special.”

Milton is emphatic that he does not want sympathy snaps, claiming, “If I’m in there, it’s because I’m a real person. I don’t want anybody to sympathize with me.”

“I’m gaining more confidence every day thanks to summer workouts, being able to do more stuff, and feeling back to normal,” Milton says.

Everything is back to normal again. Is Milton the one who went there?

“”I believe my mentality is normal,” Milton adds, “but I don’t believe it will ever be normal because of the scars and other things.” I’m typical in terms of fluidity and mobility, as well as feeling at ease on the football pitch. In terms of cognitively knowing what the offense and defense are doing, I feel even more secure than I did before being injured. I’m in a great mood.”

He’s imagined himself waiting in the tunnel to rush onto the field in a larger stadium, in front of a larger audience, in what will be his most important game yet. Milton, on the other hand, will be trapped in with just one job after the moment has passed. He did the same thing when he was the starting quarterback at UCF in 2017 and 2018, leading the Knights to a 25-game winning streak.

Winning. That would restore a sense of normalcy to the situation.

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