Rookie season recollections: Former BYU receiver Dax Milne on his first year in the NFL
How former the BYU receiver earned the respect of his NFL teammates in his rookie season with the Washington Football Team
Editor’s note: Second in an occasional series looking at the rookie seasons of the five BYU players selected in the 2021 NFL draft.
During his first few months as a rookie with the NFL’s Washington Football Team, former BYU receiver Dax Milne would pull into the parking lot of the club’s training facility in Ashburn, Virginia, driving a beat-up old Mitsubishi Outlander a friend in the area had loaned him.
A window was busted, and parts of the car were held together by duct tape.
“I would pull into the facility and park next to a McClaren or an Aston-Martin, and I am over here driving this thing. That was kinda funny,” said Milne, who walked on at BYU, earned a scholarship a few weeks into his freshman season and became so successful in Provo that he left a year early and was picked in the seventh round of the 2021 draft.
That show of humility, and his performance in a talent show for rookies in front of the entire team, earned the former Bingham High star some credibility and respect from his teammates that helped him get through his first year in the NFL.
“I decided to show everyone that the white boy from BYU can dance. So I got up there and danced a little bit and had some fun, and everyone loved it.” — Washington Commanders rookie Dax Milne, the former BYU receiver, on his NFL initiation
“A couple guys laughed when they saw (the car), but then a couple of them came up and said they respected it because I wasn’t fazed and was driving what I had around.”
Milne eventually earned $737,268 in his first year, according to spotrac.com, and bought himself a 2019 Volkswagen Arteon after receiving a couple paychecks, a step up from that Outlander and the 2005 Mazda 6 he drove at BYU.
“This is my first time actually having a decent car,” he said last week from a hotel room in the D.C. area. “I had never heard of the (Arteon) before, but when I was at some dealerships here in Virginia, it just caught my eye, and I said, ‘You know what, let’s do it.’”
Having returned to the area on April 18 to begin getting ready for the 2022 season, Milne said he will participate in ongoing organized team activities (OTAs) until June 16, then return to Utah for a break until mid-July, when everything ramps up with training camps throughout the league.
When he was in Utah after the season, he trained with Dave Stroshine at Stroformance in Pleasant Grove and says that helped him get faster and stronger.
Milne can thank rookie initiations that are commonplace in the NFL for another moment that gained him some respect. Every rookie in Washington’s training camp last summer had to perform at a talent show, and most of them sang songs.
“But I decided to show everyone that the white boy from BYU can dance,” Milne said. “So I got up there and danced a little bit and had some fun, and everyone loved it.”
Milne said he also had to pay for and bring snacks to team meetings and carry his teammates’ bags, among other things.
Summing up his entire first-year experience in the league, Milne said there were the usual ups and downs rookies go through, but also some satisfying and confidence-building moments as well. He started in one game, appeared in 13, and had nine receptions for 83 yards, with a long of 22.
“I will say this: It is not what you expect when you first come into it. But now after being right in the middle of it all for a year, I’m grateful and eager to (stick in the league),” he said. “It is a lot of hard work and there are a lot of expectations from everyone around you — coaches, friends, family, yourself.
“There’s a lot of pressure to be your best self every day you come into work,” he continued. “That’s what motivates you, knowing you haven’t ever really made it.”
Leaving early with no regrets
Milne caught 70 passes for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns from childhood friend Zach Wilson his junior season at BYU and was a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the most outstanding college football player who began his career as a walk-on.
Shortly after the 2020 season with the Cougars going 11-1, Milne decided to “strike when the iron was hot” and declared for the NFL draft, along with Wilson, the eventual No. 2 overall pick by the New York Jets.
“I have zero regrets with what I did,” he said. “I am glad and blessed that everything has worked out the way it has. Of course, it would have been fun to play another year and have it all happen the same way, but you can’t (bank) on that. That’s wishful thinking. I know I made the right choice, leaving as a junior.”
Milne said he had an interview with Washington’s receivers coach before the draft, but the Commanders (as they are named now) did not seem heavily interested.
“I was surprised it was them that pulled the trigger on me, but I am for sure happy they did,” he said.
As the draft was winding down, Milne admits to being “anxious and kinda embarrassed” because his name hadn’t been called and he had invited a lot of friends and family to his parents’ home in South Jordan to watch rounds 4-7.
“When it finally did happen, it was amazing to receive that phone call, finally, and just so much relief came over me and I was able to celebrate with the people I love,” he said. “That was truly special.”
Before Washington took him with the second-to-last pick in the entire draft, Milne said he was about to make a free-agent deal with the Denver Broncos.
“It all worked out for the best,” he said.
Patience, precise routes are virtues
Milne signed a four-year rookie contract on May 13, 2021, but obviously still had to make the 53-man roster to earn the big money. He said he will never forget the day he realized he had made the team. The day that final cuts were being made, he expected a phone call telling him one way or the other, but nothing came so he attended the scheduled meeting at the practice facility.
In the meeting head coach Ron Rivera got up and said, “Well, this is it boys, this is our 53. This is what we are going to start with,’” Milne said.
Most of the players in the room were veterans and knew they had made the team.
“But for me, I was trying to keep it cool, keep calm,” Milne said. “I wanted to stand up and scream, but I couldn’t. … Afterwards, I texted some friends and family to say, ‘Hey, I made the 53.’ So it was quite the day for me.”
Milne acknowledges that the first weeks of training camp, he wasn’t sure that he belonged. But after the first few games, he realized he had the tools, work ethic and attitude needed to survive in the NFL.
“I realized I can play with these dudes, and I can perform,” he said. “Once my mindset changed, I just had a lot more confidence.”
As the season wore on and he didn’t get a lot of opportunities, he was assured by Rivera and receivers coach Drew Terrell that he would eventually get a chance to show what he could do, and to remain patient.
“They said I have a bright future,” he said. “I wholeheartedly believe I can have a major role (in 2022) and do well with it.”
More rookie recollections
Milne recently spent 20 minutes talking with the Deseret News from his hotel room in suburban Washington,nfl D.C. recounting the highs and lows from his rookie season in the NFL and his expectations for the future. Here are some of his comments:
On what his “welcome to the NFL” moment was:
“I could name a couple. I would say the first is coming in to the facility the first time and just being around those famous names like Chase Young and Terry McLaurin, those superstars on my team. And then the first time I walked out into our stadium at FedEx Field and seeing all the fans going crazy, and yelling my name even though I was in my first year. That was something.
“Another time was seeing Tom Brady. That is always something special. My favorite game was playing at Green Bay, at Lambeau Field, and their fans were going nuts the whole game. That was definitely a moment when I went, ‘Wow, I am really in the NFL right now.’”
On what teammates ask him about playing at BYU:
“It is definitely an interesting thing, coming out here and seeing how guys view BYU, and (the state of Utah) in general. People ask me if I have multiple moms, or multiple wives. That sort of thing. As far as football at BYU, even though we were top 25 the past few years, I still get the vibe that most of these guys don’t respect the BYU name. I come from BYU, so I get a little frustrated with that.”
On Washington drafting Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson in the first round:
“It is just one of those situations where you have to tell yourself you don’t know what the higher-ups are thinking, or how they see things. You just gotta control what you can control, and that is coming in every day and focusing on your process and not comparing or focusing on what guys next to you are doing.
“But overall I think he will be a good addition to the room and I know the coaches will try to make sure to get us all in the right situations so that our talents will shine and we can show what we bring to the table.”
On whether he’s recognized in Utah and/or Virginia as an NFL receiver:
“When I am in Utah, there are a good amount of times where I will go somewhere and someone will recognize me. And then there are other times when I can tell people are looking at me, but are too hesitant or shy to say something. I always think that is funny, because I feel like I am a nice, approachable guy. But out here in Virginia, it doesn’t happen as much. I guess that time will come.”
On his living arrangements during the season:
“Last season, I had an apartment just five minutes away from the (training) facility. It is about 45 minutes away from (Washington, D.C.) and our stadium. … I just live by myself, doing the single life thing.”
On how his mother, Jill, is doing after being diagnosed as cancer-free two years ago this month:
“I am happy to say that she is doing great these days. She has been healthy for a good amount of time. I am just hoping it continues to be that way.”
On whether he keeps in touch with fellow 2021 NFL draft pick Zach Wilson:
“Here and there. Not too much. We are both busy with our careers. But yeah, we (communicate) every now and then.”