Despite the horrific leg injury he suffered on Nov. 23, 2018, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton is destined to return to action in 2020.

Following UCF Football’s Week 7 come from behind victory over Memphis, there was some fear that McKenzie Milton was well on his way to declaring for the upcoming NFL Draft.

Less than two months later, the true definition of fear was uncovered.

UCF is all too familiar with losing a junior quarterback to the pro ranks and the chaos that ensues.

Remember, following the Knights 2014 Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor, breakout QB Blake Bortles was selected third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The following year, UCF went 0-12. Fortunately, that forgettable season ushered in the brief but all-important Scott Frost era. And with him came Milton from Kapolei, Hawaii.

During that rain-soaked game versus the Tigers in Tennessee last October, a banged up Milton willed the Knights to a 31-30 victory and further added to his possible NFL-worthy resume.

Bruised ribs and all, Milton went 17-for-29 on 269 yards of passing with one TD through the air and another on the ground to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter.

Though Milton would sit out the following week versus East Carolina due to a curious Josh Heupel decision, Milton returned on Nov. 11.

Over the next three games, the 21-year-old Milton would throw for a combined 780 yards, 11 total touchdowns (three rushing), just one interception and a QBR of 87.3.

Now securely entrenched in the Heisman race, UCF was ready for the War on I-4 — their annual meeting against in-state rival USF, this time in Tampa.

A misfirection in McKenzie Milton’s course

Unfortunately, Milton’s appearance was brief, as his football future and more importantly, his vitality hung in the balance.

Following a low hit by USF cornerback Mazzie Wilkins, early in the second quarter — one that saw Wilkins’ helmet hit Milton square in the right knee, those watching the game knew Milton was in trouble.

Although evident that Milton’s leg bent in a way that it shouldn’t, it wasn’t until Milton was transported to nearby Tampa General Hospital that the true extent of the gruesome injury came to light.

On top of a dislocated knee and nerve damage suffered, a CT scan revealed “a torn popliteal artery,” in Milton’s right leg, requiring emergency surgery to restore blood flow to the leg.

In 50 percent of injuries similar to Milton’s, doctor’s are forced to amputate. That number jumps to 90 percent if blood flow isn’t restored within six hours.

According to a recent interview by Andrea Adelson of ESPN, Milton detailed some of the frightening moments following the traumatic event.

I had a huge scar from my left knee to my upper groin in my left side, which is my good side. They had to take the saphenous vein out of my left leg and make a new artery in my right leg to restore blood flow to save the leg, which is amazing. I also had two big cuts on each side of my right leg — they were open with tubes running in and out with blood just coming out. They had to keep those open because, if not, your leg would puff up and basically explode… My doctors tell me 0.001 percent of orthopedic injuries are like mine, and this type of injury is typically from motorcycle or car accidents.”

McKenzie Milton: a man of faith

Milton’s second complicated nine-hour surgery completely reconstructed his right kneecap. Almost miraculously, both meniscuses and the ACL were found to be utterly in-tact, potentially speeding up recovery time.

To-date, Milton, who is affectionately referred to as “KZ,” has undergone five seperate surgeries but still suffers numbness from the right knee on down, due to nerve “stretching.”

KZ does, however, have significant motor function of both his right ankle and foot, which is an encouraging sign that a “full healing” of the nerve is underway.

For now, Milton undertakes physical rehab five days a week, focusing on strengthening the muscles around the knee, the lower part of his right leg, and regaining the weight he lost over the past five months.

One hundred and fifty two days since that miserable evening in Tampa, Milton is well-aware that he will most likely be forced to take a medical red-shirt this season, saving his final year of eligibility for 2020.

With former Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush transferring to UCF as a grad student, and the return of developing sophomore Darriel Mack Jr., UCF has two capable but significantly different signal callers to choose from.

However, neither combine the ability, leadership or overall polish that a healthy KZ does.

Though he’ll be in the locker room and on the sideline to motivate his teammates this fall, Milton has set attainable goals of walking without crutches by the end of April and then possibly jogging in late summer.

“I feel like I got hurt for a reason,” Milton said. “Something good’s going to come out of it. If I could write my story, if I could write my book right now, I’d play 10 years in the NFL, win a couple Super Bowls and then maybe coach at UCF after that. That would be the way to go… But it’s for God to write, not me.”