Dillon Gabriel calls UCF ‘the best fit for me’

Mililani quarterback Dillon Gabriel was surrounded by friends and teammates after signing with UCF. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

There is little time to waste, and that’s perfectly fine with Dillon Gabriel.

The Mililani senior signed his football future to the University of Central Florida, spurning offers from Georgia and USC among others. He signed the letter of intent at precisely 12:30 p.m. in the library of Mililani High School. He was even there near the library entrance to greet teammates, friends, family and media. Everything went smoothly and quickly, much like Gabriel ran a no-huddle, run-pass option offense for the Trojans the past three-plus seasons on his way to a state title, two state final appearances and setting Hawaii’s all-time passing yardage record.

“I just want to thank everyone for coming. Friends, family, the community, the faculty and staff. Mililani really shaped me into the person I am today. I’m going to keep it short and sweet. With that being said, I’m going to represent Mililani and sign with UCF,” said Gabriel, and in seconds, his signature was on the official paper.

UCF, unofficial national champion in 2017 with a perfect record, runs the RPO offense that Gabriel is so proficient at.

“All of them are great schools, I think. This was just the best fit for me,” Gabriel said. “Where I felt comfortable, what I felt would give me my best option. UCF checked all the boxes for me. The scheme, it’s the same. It fits me. When I got to sit down and talk about the offense, a lot of things translate. I think the transition will be a lot easier for me.”

Gabriel made his decision on Monday.

“It was very tough. A lot of thinking,” he said. “I have some family down there as well. I got to just sit down and talk with my family and from there we just listed pros and cons and I made my decision.”

He will graduate early, and by Jan. 4, Gabriel will be on the UCF campus attending class.

“I thought about it. It’s probably my best shot to get a head start learning the offense,” he said. “

His friendship with former Trojan QB McKenzie Milton wasn’t the deciding factor, but it certainly was an influence. Milton led UCF to a 22-0 record in two seasons before suffering a severe knee injury this season.

“Me and Kenzie talk day to day. We’re very close. Him being there is definitely a plus. It didn’t really (decide) where I wanted to go, but him being there is definitely a plus, having someone from Hawaii at UCF is definitely very good,” Gabriel said.

He visited all three campuses. The culture at UCF was a key.

“It’s a unique community. It reminds a lot me of home and that’s part of the reason I want to be there. It reminds me of Mililani. I love the area. The people are kind of mixed like here. I loved the visit. There’s genuine people. The coaching, they’ll develop me. From the academic side, definitely get a good education,” Gabriel said.

It was a wondrous adventure for the Star-Advertiser All-State offensive player of the year, who had minimal interest two years ago. Then came an offer from Army, which runs a flexbone offense. He and Mililani coach Rod York were hoping for an offer from Hawaii, and that arrived eventually.

As a senior this fall, Gabriel started to get the attention of UCF. Then came interest from Georgia, and a visit there two weekends ago.

Then, when Kliff Kingsbury arrived as the new offensive coordinator at USC, the Trojans stepped into Gabriel’s final three choices. The decision did not come easy, but in the end, it made the most sense for Gabriel. His high school coach was happy, as well.

“I feel blessed. I’m excited for Dillon and his family. It’s the start of a new beginning, not the end for him and our seniors,” Trojans coach Rod York said. “Times have changed. You’ve got Marcus Mariota setting the bar. Tua (Tagovailoa). McKenzie. Jordan (Ta‘amu) over at Ole Miss. Dillon’s following the footsteps of those guys who opened the door for him. Dillon’s taking advantage of it. Nowadays, colleges want you to graduate early, come in the spring so you get an extra semester in there. Then you’ve got summer, and then you go into fall camp and see if you can play right away. If not, they’ll redshirt you and you’ll get another year, so it’s kind of like a grayshirt year.”

In the ultra-competitive world of college football, Gabriel is staying ahead of the curve.

“Dillon’s a smart guy. He hasn’t been this successful just because of his talent. He’s going to work hard. He’s going to absorb it. He’s going to digest it. He’s a guy that will come out a winner. He’s not afraid to compete. Whatever he’s got to do, he’ll do,” York said.

He finished the season with 3,747 yards and 38 touchdowns through the air, and eclipsed Tagovailoa of Saint Louis as the all-time yardage leader with 9,848 yards, along with 105 career TD passes.

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