Before McKenzie Milton electrified the college football world and went on a 24-game winning streak as UCF’s quarterback, the Mililani product was making a name for himself on the local scene.

After taking over the starting job for the Trojans as a sophomore in 2013, he guided the team to the HHSAA Division I title game. Milton and Mililani finished the job in 2014 with a win over Punahou, giving the school its first-ever and only top-tier football title to this day.

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Milton’s special 2014 season earned him virtually every individual award in the local realm. The 2015 season was shaping up to be Milton’s best, but a shoulder injury put those plans to a halt.

“We win the state championship in 2014, then the next year I felt like I was playing the best I ever played then (Kailua defensive lineman) Christian Mejia drops me on my shoulder,” Milton recalled. “My shoulder bone was sticking up to my ear almost. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to throw the ball again. Processing those emotions at 18, then being a little bit more mature in the sense that I’ve had a bad injury before, maybe not this bad, but I knew what it would take to come back and get to that level.”

Milton’s college trajectory was similar to that of his high school days. After winning the starting job as a freshman, Milton led the Knights to a 24-game winning streak, including a Peach Bowl win over Auburn in 2018. Milton’s final moment in a UCF came when he suffered a catastrophic leg injury.

“Riding those waves of emotions from winning the Peach Bowl then to having the injury is a tough pill to swallow and it will check you as a man,” Milton said. “I went through those highs and lows of rehab, especially, having some setbacks. But to me the vision was always clear — the vision was to play ball again and play at a high level.”

Nobody would have blamed Milton for retiring from football after his leg injury. But through years of rehab, he took the field again for Florida State and inspired the country in the team’s season opener against Notre Dame back in September.

Following the end of the 2021 season, Milton was awarded the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year on Dec. 21.

“To have kids come up to your sometimes and tell you, ‘Man, you’re a true inspiration,’ and things like that, it makes it all worth it,” Milton said. “If you have a vision of your life and a goal you want to set out to, hold on to that. Every day, every choice you make you have to honestly ask yourself, ‘Am I working every day to get to where I want to go? If you can answer those questions ‘Yes,’ then you’re going to be able to sleep just fine at night.”