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How Dax Milne is following in his dad’s footsteps — in a different sport

Nearly 30 years ago, former BYU baseball star Darren Milne left the school after a sensational junior season to pursue his pro baseball dreams. Now his son is following a similar path — in football

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Dax Milne (5) celebrates his touchdown against the Texas State Bobcats with Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Kody Epps (0) in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.
BYU wide receiver Dax Milne (5) celebrates his touchdown against the Texas State Bobcats with wide receiver Kody Epps (0) in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Milne declared early for the 2021 NFL draft, which is Thursday through Saturday.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This three-sport star from a south Salt Lake Valley high school helped multiple teams contend for state championships, then bypassed scholarship offers from smaller schools to take a preferred walk-on invitation from BYU.

After an outstanding three-year career with the Cougars, which saw him earn a scholarship after his freshman season and included a phenomenal junior season, he entered the professional draft and reluctantly said goodbye to the school that turned him into an improbable star.

That’s gotta be former Bingham High standout and ex-BYU receiver Dax Milne’s story, right?

Actually, it is his father’s.

Darren Milne graduated from Hillcrest High in 1989 after starring for the Midvale school’s football, baseball and track teams, and accepted then-baseball coach Gary Pullins’ offer to walk on at BYU. As a freshman, he made an instant splash, hitting a home run in his first varsity at-bat, against nationally ranked Hawaii. He hit .372 his junior season before being taken in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Detroit Tigers.

“The similarities are uncanny,” Dax Milne said last week as he continued preparations for the 2021 NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Cleveland and runs through Saturday. “It is a really cool deal. I don’t know if any other father-son combination at BYU has ever taken that same path.”

By now, most BYU football fans are familiar with Dax Milne’s story, how he was talked into walking on at BYU by receivers coach Fesi Sitake rather than attend Weber State or a local junior college, and how he teamed up with probable top-two NFL draft pick Zach Wilson, his good friend growing up and housemates their final season in Provo, to catch 70 passes for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020.

Last December, when Dax Milne was trying to decide whether to forgo his senior season and turn pro, he had the ultimate resource to draw upon for advice.

“I was once in that situation, too,” Darren Milne said. “It brought back some fun memories.”

Being too humble, Darren says he had a “pretty futile minor league career” in pro baseball. He made it to the Triple-A level before being released by the Toledo Mud Hens.

“I could just never get used to the wooden bat in the minor leagues,” he said, having driven in 76 runs on 13 home runs, 27 doubles and two triples in his three-year BYU baseball career. Regarding that first at-bat homer, Darren says before he went to the plate, All-America teammate Randy Wilstead “gave me his bat to use,” and he ended up knocking the ball out of the park.

Likewise, Dax Milne made a splash in his BYU debut, playing a key role in the Cougars’ 24-21 upset of No. 6 Wisconsin in 2018.

“I never had the confidence that Dax has,” Darren Milne said. “He just has something inside him, a belief in himself, that I never had.”

It was that belief in himself, when almost everyone else doubted his ability, that has carried Dax Milne from walk-on to potential NFL draft pick.

“I bet on myself and won at BYU,” he says of his college career, while acknowledging that coming out early is another gamble, in a way, because it is not a sure thing that he will be drafted this weekend. Most mock drafts have him going in the sixth or seventh rounds on Saturday. Some don’t have him listed at all, meaning he might end up being an undrafted free agent.

“Yeah, that was a big worry for me when I made the decision,” he said. “I was always thinking, ‘What if I regret it in the future?’ But since I announced, thus far throughout this whole process, it has been great. I have had a good feeling about everything and no regrets so far.”

Dax Milne says he attended some of BYU’s spring practices last month and will “miss being with the boys and miss that friendship aspect of college football,” but believes his best opportunity to make an NFL roster is right now.

“You gotta strike while the iron is hot,” he said. “Since I made the decision, I have woke up every morning with no regrets. I feel good about it.”

Dax Milne poses for a picture with his brother Dallen, left, and his mom and dad, Jill and Darren.
Milne family

‘She has always been a fuel for me’

Whatever happens this weekend, the Milnes know that they have the strength to carry on and make the best of the situation. For that, they can thank their mother and wife, Jill Milne.

Shortly after Dax helped lead Bingham High to the 2017 state football championship, his mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As was chronicled by the BYUtv series “Deep Blue,” the cancer spread to Jill’s liver and lungs and she underwent chemotherapy and various surgeries throughout most of 2018.

Dax reported via Twitter on Dec. 7, 2018, that they “just got the great news today that she’s officially cancer-free right now.”

Doctors, however, discovered another cancerous spot in Jill’s lung a few months ago, and she recently had surgery to have that spot removed. Dax said she has been “recovering well the past couple of days and is doing great.”

He said his decision to leave BYU early isn’t related to his mother’s health, but he does draw inspiration from her courageous battle.

“She has always been a fuel for me in whatever I do,” he said. “I am putting all my eggs into this basket of going to the NFL right now, and so I think it just motivates me to do everything I can to make sure I can fulfill that dream of being able to provide for my mom and my dad. They have sacrificed a ton for me to get me into this position. They have always believed in me, that I could do this, ever since I was a little 6-year-old kid playing tackle football in the back yard.”

Bingham’s late bloomer

Growing up in the Salt Lake City suburb of South Jordan, Dax Milne was at first a running back, and he idolized LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers, now based in Los Angeles, are still his favorite team, but he realizes he can’t afford to be choosy at this stage of the game. One recent mock draft had him going to the New York Jets and reuniting with Wilson. The two mostly competed against each other since they were 8, Milne with Bingham’s Little League teams and Wilson with Jordan’s, and then Corner Canyon’s.

“Yeah, that would be fun for us and I think it would be just as fun for BYU fans that have been cheering us on from the beginning,” Dax Milne said. “It is always nice to have some familiarity wherever you go, especially when you go somewhere new. It would be fun to have the opportunity to make plays with him again.”

Darren Milne says his son “was a late bloomer” physically, but Dax never backed down from a challenge, even though he was often the smallest kid on the field.

“He gets motivated when people doubt him, or think he can’t do something,” Darren Milne said. “That is something that is deep inside him, and he has that confidence that he wants to play against the best, and that he can succeed against the best. He is never cocky, but is always just super confident in his ability.”

Dax’s Ute Conference teams at Bingham never lost a game in which he played (he was injured in one) in five years, from the time he was 8 until he turned 12. In his three-year career at Bingham High, the Miners lost just three games — all to nationally ranked, out-of-state opponents.

“Bingham’s team-first attitude and philosophy groomed him, and set the foundation for the college level,” Darren Milne said. “It was the exact same team culture. He has always been all about winning.”

Driven by ‘pure competitiveness’

Immediately after declaring for the draft, Dax Milne chose the Rep1 Sports agency and Collin Roberts to represent him, and traveled to their facility in Irvine, California, to work with their trainers. Rep1 also represents former Cougars Bronson and Corbin Kaufusi and their cousin, former BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi.

He worked with former NFL receiver Ricky Proehl and Proehl’s son, Blake, and also trained with former Brighton High and Stanford receiver Simi Fehoko. In Southern California, Milne spent a few weekends with Wilson and former Cougars Aleva Hifo, Micah Simon and Matt Bushman at John Beck’s 3DQB facility developing the script they would use at BYU’s pro day on March 26.

“That was really cool to be able to work out with Zach and all those guys one last time,” said Dax Milne, who was a candidate for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the top college football player who started his career as a walk-on. “I think it really got us ready to show our stuff at pro day.”

Regarding pro day, Dax Milne said he “had good times, but wanted to do better,” especially in the agility drills.

“My 40 time (4.54 seconds) was just about what everyone thought I would get, and I am proud of that,” he said. “Overall, it was a pretty good day.”

Milne knows the “draft is a crapshoot” and nothing is guaranteed. He hopes the things that will set him apart are his ability to pick up a playbook quickly, his precise route running ability, and his penchant for making tough catches in traffic.

“What I have been telling scouts when they ask about me is, first, my pure competitiveness and my willingness to win,” he said. “I have always told people I hate losing more than I love winning. I think that really drives me to be a great competitor and ultimately sets me apart.

“I take pride in running crisp routes,” he continued. “ A lot of people strive to emulate me. And I feel like I have great hands. I feel like my ball skills really set me apart and I can compete with anyone in the league in that way.”

A Day 3 guy

Milne says he has talked to about 20 NFL teams throughout this process, almost all of them via Zoom calls. He mostly talked to receivers coaches, a few head coaches, and a few general managers. He said a few teams talked to him twice, “but out of respect for them, I don’t want to name them.”

Teams don’t like to show their hands, he said, but “ultimately they were all kinda saying that I was a Day 3 guy, probably going somewhere between rounds 4-7. They were all pretty confident (that he’d be drafted). At least, that’s what I heard from coaches and even scouts.”

Milne planned to spend the first day of the draft at the Wilsons’ home in Draper, but that might change because Zach Wilson decided last week that he will attend the draft in person.

When Saturday comes, Milne will likely just “chill out” at his parents’ home in South Jordan and wait by the phone as rounds four through seven unfold.

“I’m just hoping that one team out there believes enough in me to take me,” he said.

So he can continue on the same path his father took in 1992.