The battles were brutal, whether they were backyard football or pickup basketball games. As the youngest of four brothers, McKenzie Milton learned to take his share of physicality and keep coming.
“We grew up in a cul-de-sac and we played baseball, tackle football and basketball,” Milton said. “It was a lot of fun, but it taught me to be competitive and tough too. We would get into brawls over games. We’re still competitive in a round of golf or PlayStation. I don’t think I was even the most competitive. My second-oldest brother still says he’s a better football player than me and he didn’t even play high school football.”
RELATED: This week’s Super 25 schedule
Milton, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior quarterback at Mililani, Hawaii, helped lead the Trojans to the state championship game the past two seasons. They won the state Division I title this past season and Milton was named the Gatorade state Player of the Year after throwing for 3,392 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushing for 808 yards and 12 touchdowns.
His only offers so far have been from the three football-playing service academies (Air Force, Navy and Army) and from Hawaii, where Milton committed to in December. Oregon and others may soon follow. In three games this season for the No. 24-ranked Trojans, he’s run for 191 yards and a touchdown and thrown for 859 yards and 12 touchdowns, including a five-touchdown, 515-yard passing game last week in a 67-21 defeat of Kapolei.
“A couple of other schools have started to show interest,” Milton said. “Northern Arizona, Charleston Southern and Oregon have been keeping in touch a lot.”
Milton caught the Ducks’ interest when he was named the quarterback MVP among 62 quarterbacks at the Oregon camp this past summer. He was also the quarterback MVP of the Boise State camp.
“That was eye-opening going to (the mainland for the camps),” said Milton’s father, Mark Milton, who along with his wife Teresa ran the Waipio Panther Football League in central Oahu while their sons were growing up. “A lot of these kids are highly rated, but like anything, you could see that McKenzie could play with any of them. I had one coach from Oregon tell me that if McKenzie was 6-3 or 6-4, every offensive coordinator in the country would be after him. A couple of people have made the comment that he is Marcus (Mariota) minus four inches.”
Like Mariota, Milton wears No. 13, but even if he didn’t have the same number and the same initials, it would be hard for Milton or any signal-caller from the 50th state to escape Mariota’s shadow.
Mariota, the first Hawaiian-born player to win the Heisman Trophy while at Oregon last season, is a rookie quarterback with the Tennessee Titans. When he was taken No. 2 in the NFL draft this past spring, he became highest Hawaiian-born selection ever in the draft. Before he was a star player at Oregon, he won a state title his senior year at St. Louis (Honolulu). Though he never had a game like Milton did Saturday, Mariota is still the yardstick by which all Hawaiian quarterbacks will be measured for a while.
“He’s a rock star down here,” Milton said. “He’s a trend-setter. He’s one of the first guys to wear three-quarter (compression) leggings. He’s just a humble guy.”
That attitude is something that Milton shares, said Mililani coach Rod York.
“The kid is humble, a team guy,” York said. “His attitude is A-plus. He’s always positive with the team and holds himself accountable when he makes mistakes. It makes it that much easier for us. The thing about him is he wants to be better. With this kid, he works hard. He throws with a QB coach (Joel Lane) and lifts with another guy. I have to tell him to rest.”
Milton is quick to point out that he’s surrounded by great talent at Mililani, including Vavae Malepeai, a 2014 first-team all-state running back who has committed to Oregon and all-state wide receiver Kala Timoteo, who has committed to Hawaii and Andru Tovi, a second-team all-state offensive lineman last year as a junior.
“It’s a team sport and there’s no one guy who’s bigger than the team,” Milton said. “If you’re that good, you don’t have to tell anyone how good you are. I’ve had a lot of good teammates. A lot of them get overlooked, so that’s why I don’t take getting any offers for granted.”
York lets Milton call his own plays in Mililani’s read-option offense, a privilege he’s earned with steady improvement. As a sophomore, he had a quarterback rating of 135.8. Last year, it was 179.9 and this season, it is 215.1. He’s on pace to break former St. Louis quarterback Timmy Chang’s career state record of 8,001 passing yards and with more games like the one against Kapolei, Chang’s career passing touchdown record of 113.
“My sophomore year, I couldn’t read a defense even if it was a picture book,” Milton said. “Last year, I realized watching films are a big part of being a quarterback. This part is continuing the same thing. You have to be smarter than the defense and know what is going to be open.”