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American Stories – Heisman Hopes for UCF’s Milton

John Bazemore - Associated Press

The Heisman Trophy made a guest appearance at the American Athletic Conference’s annual football media days in July.

It may not be the last time a player from The American is near the top individual honor in sports.

Hopefully, someone thought to snap a picture of UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton standing next to it. The unassuming 5-11, 185-pound sophomore from Kapolei, Hawaii, deserves to be part of the Heisman conversation this season.

Everything would have to fall into place for Milton, but if he has similar numbers and his team has similar success as last year, Milton will get a chance to showcase his credentials in the regular-season finale against USF on Black Friday and potentially in The American Championship game.

Milton finished eighth in the Heisman balloting in 2017. Of the top 10 Heisman vote-getters from last season, only three are returning to college football this season. Milton is the only quarterback.

He was the American’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns and finishing second in pass efficiency behind Heisman winner and 2018 NFL first overall pick Baker Mayfield after Milton led the Knights to a perfect 13-0 season.

UCF got the jump on several candidates in a crowded field by unveiling a multimedia blitz. In addition to a new website, the Knights also played up the fact the Milton is from Hawaii by using a clever hashtag on social media and released a video featuring highlights from last season with notable statistics. The capitalized HI is a nod to Milton’s Hawaiian roots, while playing off the Heisman name, and the school has sent out artificial flower leis to selected media.

Milton is part of a growing list of quarterbacks from Hawaii who have made waves in college football. He grew up idolizing Marcus Mariota from Oregon, who played for St. Louis School in Honolulu and won the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Milton wore Mariota’s number, 13, while leading Mililani to back to back Division I state championships in high school.

“(Mariotta) is a rock star in the state,” Milton admitted. “Hawaii has a history of producing great quarterbacks – Timmy Chang, Cole Brennan – but Marcus had the big breakthrough.”

Milton and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a true freshman from Mariota’s alma mater, St. Louis School, are the latest to come off the assembly line from Hawaii. Tagavailoa, a freshman, came off the bench in the second half to throw for 166 yards and three touchdowns to rally Alabama to a 26-23 victory over Georgia in last year’s College Football Playoff.

But UCF has made its own claim to a national championship, which has led to a playful debate between Milton and Tagovailoa.

“We’ll joke around about the national championship stuff, but it’s all in good fun,” Milton said. “He’s good hearted and doesn’t take it personally. He’ll be the first one to give us praise about going unbeaten and he’ll say things like, ‘You guys were the only ones to go undefeated and beat the team that beat us. He’s such a humble guy. What he did in their bowl game is almost unheard of. He came off the bench as a true freshman and just diced Georgia up.”

Milton and Tagovailoa have been good friends their childhood.

“We played on the same Pop Warner team when I was 10,” Milton said. “He was the quarterback and I played running back. After the season he left for another team and my father, who coached the team, said, ‘We need a quarterback.’ I’ve been playing the same position ever since and we competed against each other in high school.”

Milton was the MVP of the Oregon and Boise State quarterback camps during high school. He initially committed to Hawaii as a high school senior but changed his mind after meeting then-coach Scott Frost and visiting UCF’s campus. When UCF began to unload on opponents last season, teammates began to refer to him as “Money.”

Milton was selected Most Outstanding Player of The American Championship then was MVP of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl after he completed 13 of 18 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns in the second half while rushing for 116 yards and another score during the Knights’ win against Auburn.

Milton, the youngest of four brothers, has had the luxury of playing for two former college star quarterbacks – Frost, who led Nebraska to a co-national championship in 1997, left for the Nebraska job last December but stayed around to coach the Knights in their bowl game. His replacement is Josh Heupel, the 2000 Heisman runner-up from Oklahoma who was a highly productive offensive coordinator at Missouri.

“This job seems like the right fit,” Heupel said. “I told the players best thing about taking this job is our players because of the brotherhood they formed. Certainly, having a championship-caliber quarterback like McKenzie is important.

“He has a high, high ceiling.”



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