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Original photo by Jenna Harris

Comeback Kid: McKenzie Milton the Medical Miracle

It’s Nov. 23, 2018, and McKenzie Milton steps onto the football field in his University of Central Florida Knights (UCF) gear. The junior quarterback from Hawaii has had an amazing season so far, starting 10 games and totaling 7,620 yards. It’s the last game of the regular season against the University of South Florida Bulls (USF) and the start of the second quarter. Milton gets tackled. Hard.

His knee is dislocated. His thigh is completely separated from the rest of his leg. His tendons and arteries are injured. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital, where he undergoes surgery. When he comes to, he’s lucky they didn’t have to amputate his leg. His football career at this point is seemingly over.

On Sep. 5, 2021, almost three years, seven surgeries and one extremely dangerous infection later, McKenzie Milton walks out in a Florida State University Seminoles (FSU) uniform on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium with two perfectly good, fully functioning legs. His teammate Jordan Travis is the starting quarterback in the season opener against Notre Dame. Standing on the sidelines, Milton isn’t even sure if he’ll go in. Then, as FSU trails by ten points in the fourth quarter, Travis’s helmet comes off mid-play, and due to NCAA regulations, the coaches have no choice but to take Travis out and put Milton in.

It’s his very first play in 34 months. The ball is snapped, and McKenzie completes a 22-yard pass to running back Ja’Khi Douglas for a first down. The crowd goes ballistic. It was a truly spectacular sight, both the football genius of McKenzie and the spirit of the crowd. McKenzie Milton made Doak Campbell Stadium come to life Sunday night.

Hungry for more, Milton continues to drive the ball down the field for a Florida State touchdown, closing the lead to only three points. A few plays later, FSU ties the game with a field goal. By the final buzzer, Milton has racked up 48 passing yards and six rushing yards. Milton came back like he never left, but it’s easy to forget that there is a three-year gap between these two moments.

Milton is the first player to ever come back from a dislocated knee this severe. He’s an absolute medical miracle. His comeback is thanks to his orthopedic surgeon Bruce Levy and the support he received from both the UCF and FSU programs. And his heart; it takes a special kind of determination and belief to overcome such a disheartening injury, but Milton did it with grace and humbleness.

FSU ended up losing 41-38 in overtime to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, yet fans were hardly discouraged. The next week, he got the starting job against Jacksonville State. Milton is making it a tough decision for his coaches. At 23 years old, his college football career is most likely coming to a close. He’s stated in interviews that his next step is coaching.

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Ally Kukanza is a freshman at Florida State University planning on majoring in Economics. She is also a part of the Presidential Scholars and Honors Programs at FSU, and a David Blaine fanatic!
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