ORLANDO, Fla. – True sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton was thrown into the fire in the 2016 season. After then-starting quarterback Justin Holman suffered a game-ending injury in a 51-14 loss to the Michigan Wolverines, Milton was ripped from his expected seat as a sit-and-learn redshirt freshman and started all but one game for the rest of the season.
Now, the Kapolei, Hawaii, native enters his second season as the expected starter after leading the Knights to a bowl game following a winless season in 2015. With that expectation, Milton has found himself embracing a bigger leadership role, as he sees that as being an inherent part of his position; yet, naturally, there was still some uncertainty in the 19-year-old’s voice.
“I mean, I feel, as a quarterback, you have to take that role no matter where you’re at,” Milton said after practice Tuesday. “A quarterback has to step up and lead their guys. I gotta get on my guys if they’re not doing the right thing, if they’re lined up right, so, I mean, I don’t know, I guess so, yeah.”
It’s not just Milton who’s noticing a change in his role, though. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Wyatt Miller specifically noted Milton was becoming more vocal. He said having a more vocal quarterback is something the team needs.
“I’ve seen McKenzie Milton this offseason step up and start saying more and being more of a vocal guy, and we need that out of our quarterback,” Miller said after practice Tuesday. “We needed a guy that’s gonna step up and say something that somebody’s doing wrong or just kinda step up.”
Second-year UCF head coach Scott Frost knows a thing or two about the role of a quarterback. He played collegiately for both Stanford University (1993-94) and the University of Nebraska (1995-97). Frost also was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Oregon from 2013 to 2015, coaching 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
So, when it comes to quarterbacks, Frost also knows about the implied leadership responsibilities that come with it.
“Well, quarterback’s the one position where you have to be a leader,” Frost said after practice Tuesday. “There’s not really any choice. So, that’s tough for an 18-year-old to do as a freshman. But he’s gonna be in that role this spring, and we need him to take charge of the offense and get everybody else lined up and going.”
Milton now enters the spring session as one of just two quarterbacks on the roster. Redshirt senior Pete DiNovo is the other one. For Milton, he credits Holman with how he’s developed.
“I felt like Justin…did a good job of helping me out, helping me, like, learn and stuff,” Milton said. “But, yeah, definitely with a year of just learning, I just learned a lot in the offseason. We’ll have the summer, we’ll have the spring to learn even more, and I think if we keep progressing like that, if we keep progressing day by day, I think we’ll be solid.”
UCF continues spring ball with its second of 15 practices on Wednesday. The Knights will also host a pro day on Wednesday, highlighted by former UCF cornerback Shaquill Griffin.