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How BYU’s Dax Milne bet on himself — and won

Former Bingham High star turned down financial aid offers from smaller schools and paid his own way his first year in Provo. Now he’s a key part of the Cougars’ offense, and on scholarship.

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Dax Milne (82) catches a touchdown over USC Trojans cornerback Chase Williams (7) in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
BYU wide receiver Dax Milne catches a touchdown over USC cornerback Chase Williams in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — Famed boxer Floyd Mayweather once tried to bet $400,000 on himself to beat mixed martial artist Conor McGregor before a fight in 2017, but was stopped by the Las Vegas bookmaker before he could plunk down the cash.

Although no money was involved, BYU receiver Dax Milne also gambled on himself recently — and won.

Milne, a 6-foot, 187-pound sophomore, had a difficult decision to make coming out of Bingham High in 2018: Take a full-ride scholarship offer from Weber State of the Football Championship Subdivision, or accept BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s invitation to join the Cougars as a preferred walk-on and prove himself worthy of a scholarship down the road.

He chose the latter.

“I sort of bet on myself, and it paid off,” Milne said last month. “No regrets at all.”

After stunning almost everyone but himself by playing in 10 games his true freshman season and starting in three — making 10 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown — Milne was awarded that scholarship after spring camp last April.

When receivers coach Fesi Sitake, the same coach who tried to get Milne to Ogden before joining his cousin Kalani’s staff at BYU, gave him the word, “It was a huge relief, honestly,” Milne said. “My parents were helping me out financially, paying for college and all that. It was a huge joy to be able to tell them, ‘hey, we are good, school is paid for now.’”

Some schools post videos when guys who are paying their own way suddenly don’t have to, but BYU generally doesn’t, so Milne’s gold mine wasn’t readily known. But you could hear his “hooting and hollering” from Provo to his folks’ home in South Jordan, he surmised.

“I showed BYU coaches that I was all-in when I walked on, and they have paid me back by just giving me the chance, the opportunity, if I was ready,” Milne said. “Then they stuck to their word.”

Indeed, the Sitakes both said they desperately wanted to give Milne a scholarship on signing day in February 2018, but they were plumb out. Kalani allowed Fesi to deliver the good news last spring when one of the 85 scholarships BYU is allotted opened up.

“The fact that I was able to see Dax’s reaction and share the joy in that moment with him was awesome,” Fesi Sitake said. “It was an unforgettable deal. I’m just so, so happy for him.”

Milne has made the coaches look like geniuses so far in 2019, with 10 catches for 118 yards and a score.

“It has been absolutely gratifying to see what Dax has done because I knew him on a much more personal level,” Fesi Sitake said. “I knew his situation in life, his circumstances of where he was at. He isn’t just a walk-on who earned a scholarship to me. I know his parents. I know his siblings. I know how he has been raised. All those factors made it that much more gratifying.”

Milne’s most memorable play was the 30-yard touchdown catch against USC in which one of his best friends on the team, quarterback Zach Wilson, threaded the needle.

“I was worried that Zach didn’t see me at first,” Milne said, describing the play. “Then I saw him look at me at the last second and throw it up. As you can tell from the video or pictures, the defender’s hand was pretty close to the ball. I was just grateful that it made it through and I was able to make a play. Just a great throw by Zach.”

Bingham’s Dax Milne runs for a touchdown during a football game against Lone Peak at Bingham High School in South Jordan, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Bingham won 28-10.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Coincidentally, Wilson also had a role in persuading Milne to walk on at BYU. Although they attended rival high schools (Wilson went to Jordan as a freshman and Corner Canyon his final three years), they became close friends competing against each other in track and basketball since they were youngsters.

“It was a huge relief when Dax was put on scholarship,” Wilson said. “It was rough to have him push away some of the offers he had to come here and walk on. It was a risk he was willing to take. … But he really puts in the extra work, and he deserved it, for sure. It is awesome, how quickly it came for him and he’s been a big part of our team this year.”

Milne said playing on three state championship teams at Bingham against not only the best teams in Utah, but from around the country, proved to him that he could compete at the highest level of college football, scholarship or not.

He is also driven by the “lack of respect” doled out to BYU’s receivers prior to the season starting.

“I just remember hearing a lot of people doubt us as playmakers on the receiving side,” he said. “And for me, I know I took it personally and wanted to show everyone that we don’t need to be like five-star recruits to make plays.”

Or, in Milne’s case, a no-star walk-on.

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Cougars on the air

BYU (2-3) at South Florida (1-3)

At Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Oct. 12, 1:30 p.m. (MDT)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM