UCF hit its greatest heights over the past two seasons with an undersized, under-recruited quarterback from Hawaii. To reach them once again, UCF has turned to an undersized, under-recruited quarterback from Hawaii.
How a school in the middle of the most fertile recruiting area in the country went a combined 10,000 miles to build a quasi-pipeline to Orlando is only one piece of the story. The other is how McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel made it happen.
Their improbable journey takes center stage in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl against Marshall in Tampa, Florida, on Monday (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App). Gabriel, one of the top true freshman quarterbacks in the country, will try to get the Knights to 10 wins for the third straight season on the same field where Milton suffered a catastrophic injury that caused nerve damage and hindered blood flow in his leg, nearly forcing it to be amputated.
It will be the first time back in Tampa for Milton, who continues to rehab with the goal of playing once again. Milton prefers to look forward, and not back, though stepping onto the field again is sure to bring back a flurry of memories. Once the game kicks off, all his focus will be on his teammates and specifically Gabriel, the player he believed wholeheartedly would succeed him at UCF.
Milton and Gabriel sit on plush couches inside the UCF nutrition center after eating lunch, describing all the dominoes that fell into place to bring them together again. It all started with Milton, who set records and won a state championship at Mililani High School outside Honolulu but had only a few offers. He never even considered UCF until Scott Frost left Oregon for the Knights.
"Did you know the school existed?" Gabriel asks him.
"I heard of them when they beat Baylor [in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl] but never thought to come here until Frost," Milton says.
"Now they're a household name," Gabriel says.
"Got a ton of friends and family sporting our gear," Milton says.
They are sporting all that gear thanks to Milton, who set records of his own at UCF.