BYU football alum Dax Milne taking command in Washington

LANDOVER, Md. — Guys like Dax Milne aren’t supposed to reach the NFL.

The road to football’s highest level of competition is hardly traveled by former walk-ons, let alone players without any recruiting stars or Division-I scholarship offers out of high school.

Yet here is Milne, continuing to beat the odds since arriving at BYU in 2018 to now earning reps as a second-year receiver and primary return specialist for the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

“It’s all about taking any opportunity I can get when I’m thrown out there,” Milne told Universe Sports following a 23-21 Commanders win over the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday. “(Opportunities) might be few, but I just want to take advantage of them all.”

Following infrequent usage in his first two collegiate campaigns, Milne exploded in 2020, catching 70 passes for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns as Zach Wilson’s favorite target on a dominant 11-1 Cougars squad. Milne elected to forego his remaining eligibility and was drafted by the then-Washington Football Team with the penultimate selection of the 2021 NFL draft, becoming the first BYU receiver in more than a decade to have his name called on draft day.

While being drafted is a true accomplishment, it still guaranteed nothing for Milne, who spent his first two Washington training camps fighting an uphill battle amid plenty of obstacles to make the final 53-man roster. He did enough in 2021 to slide into a roster spot, and even when veteran Alex Erickson was brought in this past summer to compete directly with Milne, the former Cougar responded by becoming untouchable as one of the breakout stars of Commanders camp and a quick favorite of head coach Ron Rivera.

Now part of a talented receiver room including the likes of stars Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and rookie phenom Jahan Dotson, Milne has held his ground and carved out a nice role as a complimentary pass-catcher in Washington’s rotation, logging 13 receptions for 110 yards in his career thus far while making a handful of starts, including Sunday against Green Bay.

“We’ve got a crazy deep receiver room,” Milne said of the Commanders. “They’re all solid dudes and great players, and it’s fun to compete with them and watch them out here. For me, it’s all about just learning from them.”

A key aspect to Milne’s surviving and thriving in Washington has been his value as a return specialist, a role he won this year in training camp even after making just 15 total returns in his career at BYU. Nevertheless, Milne has 29 returns under his belt in 2022, including a leading-leading 17 attempts as a punt returner, where he feels he’s gotten better “week to week.”

“It’s definitely been a growing experience,” Milne said of his return responsibilities. “I’ve always been comfortable going back there and catching the ball, and I want to be known as a reliable dude back there. As far as learning how to manipulate the coverage and different subtleties, it’s been a process and I feel like I’m getting really good at it.”

Washington may be the nation’s capital, but the past two decades have seen the city become the drama capital of the NFL as well. Milne is a long way from Provo, as this year alone he’s been surrounded by continuous legal issues involving disgruntled team owner Dan Snyder, a complete and unprecedented organization rebrand from Washington Football Team to Commanders and, most recently, a quarterback controversy between newly acquired Carson Wentz and gritty backup Taylor Heinicke. It would be a lot for anyone to stomach, let alone a young player 2,000 miles from home just trying to belong.

Even with all the chaos off the field, Milne said he hasn’t felt bothered by the “unique” circumstances. “Not a lot of guys in the NFL have dealt with this outside noise, but it doesn’t really affect us much. Our job is to play football no matter what we’re wearing or what the name is.”

Life in the NFL hasn’t kept Milne from keeping up with his alma mater, as he’s always tuned in for each BYU game and even made the trip out to LaVell’s house for when the Cougars took on Arkansas on Oct. 15. Despite the team’s recent struggles in October, Milne has no doubt that Kalani Sitake’s squad can figure things out.

“They’re kind of like us, we’ve gone through some tough games and I think they’re going through the same thing,” Milne said of the Cougars. “I believe they have the resiliency to move forward and make the adjustments they need.”

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