High School Football. College Football. The NFL Draft. That is the conventional path to the NFL. Utah State tight end Dax Raymond’s path has been far from conventional.
“Right out of high school, I got called to the Russia Vladivostok mission. I left a month and a half out of high school and I went over to Russia and began my mission. I had to learn the Russian language, I had to learn the culture. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life because I had to leave my friends, my family. I had to leave football, social media, TV. You don’t do any of that”.
Introducing, Dax Raymond…
The journey had a more standard beginning. Growing up in Provo, Utah, Dax was one of four children of Ronn and Alecia. He was surrounded by sport from a young age. Ronn had been a star on the BYU track and field team and the sporting apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“Growing up, I have an older brother, he’s three years older than me, we both grew up playing football and basketball. If I had a second of free time, I’d be out in the front yard either shooting hoops or playing catch with my brother and my friends. That’s what we loved doing growing up”.
It was at this point that a young Dax knew that football was the career that he wanted to pursue.
“I wanted to, I didn’t know if I could. I just knew that if I worked as hard as I could I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t make it. So, I made that goal going in to high school. You know, I was going to work as hard as I could. I kinda had to switch positions a couple of times. But I knew if I worked as hard as I could at that specific position that everything was going to work out. In high school, I kinda started to understand “hey, I’m pretty good at this sport, I think I could play at the next level”. Then, once I got to college kind of the same thing again. “Hey, I’m doing pretty well, I think I can get to the next level again”.”
From Running Back To Running Routes…
He switched from playing running back in middle school, to quarterback for most of his high school career. Finally he found a position that truly matched his skill set. In his senior year at Timpview High School, Dax set the state of Utah alight as a wide receiver. He earned first team all state honours, and helped the Timpview Thunderbirds to a state championship.
“My senior year when I switched to receiver, I broke the record for receiving records in the state of Utah. But since then it’s been broken already so I didn’t hold that record for too long. I was happy that I had it for a year or two. For only playing the position for a year, I was still kind of learning what I was doing, so I was pretty happy with that accomplishment”.
Transitioning To Tight End…
Despite this success in his senior year, there weren’t too many offers on the table from colleges, even those close to home.
“Utah State was my only offer…I grew up right next to BYU and they didn’t offer me. So, I went up to Utah State and I loved every second of it and I have no regrets about going up there”.
Even that offer came with a condition and one final change of position.
“Utah State said “hey, we’ll offer you a scholarship as a tight end” because I was a bigger receiver, I kept getting taller and gaining weight so I was like “yeah let’s do it”…they saw potential in me, to continue to gain weight and continue to get stronger, and to be able to block inline and continue to run routes like I did in high school. They saw that in me and I trusted them to help me get to where I’m at today”.
From Running Routes To Russia…
Utah State would have to wait for the potential they’d seen. For Dax, something greater than football came calling which put his career on hold for two years.
“I grew up a Latter Day Saint, a Mormon is what most people call us, and a lot of my friends and family in this area go on these two year LDS missions, is what we call them. My grandfather’s done it, and my dad’s done it, my brother and my sister. We sacrifice two years of our life to, you know, we commit to serving the Lord and going out and helping people with whatever they need but most importantly becoming on to Christ”.
His mission took him over 5000 miles from Utah to Russia. He left the USA with no grasp of the Russian language but returned fluent enough for it to benefit his education.
“We’re trying to learn Russian whilst we’re there, you know, it is very hard. I was blessed to be able to be there and learn the language and when I got home I tested in Russian and got 16 credits, A grade. It was awesome to be able to test out in Russian and it really helped me in my schooling”.
A Greater Good…
The experience provided lessons in selflessness, resilience and mental fortitude as well.
“You wake up at 6:30 every day and you start with studies in the morning. You do personal study and then you have a companion that you’re there serving with, you study together then you have an hour language study just to freshen up on some Russian…then you eat lunch and around noon you head out, you teach lessons if you have planned lessons and if not you walk around on the street talking to people…you go round all afternoon until nine o’clock at night and you come home, prepare for bed, then repeat every day. That was the exact same thing I did every day for two years”.
“You are working as hard as you can. It’s a two year opportunity to serve God and to serve people. It’s one of the greatest opportunities anyone can have because you forget who you are and you just go and serve the Lord. I would not be who I am today without that mission. I really think that mission helped me become who I am. It honestly helped me more than I helped anyone there…I will forever be thankful for that two year mission because not only did it help me spiritually and emotionally and help me become more mature but it gave me a work drive that when I got home, I took it to Utah State, and just worked like I did on the mission and it got me to where I’m at today”.
Returning To Utah…
He returned from Russia to pursue his dream of playing football. After a freshman season that saw him play in nine games, including the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Dax was ready to break out in his sophomore season.
“I had worked as hard as I could all off season, then ended up getting hurt in August, right before the season started. The doctor said “you’re going to have to redshirt this year” and that was super tough. It took me a week or two to gather myself and get back on track. I had to focus and dial in on what can I do. All I could do was get in the film room and get as much treatment as I could. So, I just overdosed on what I could do and avoided times to get down on myself. I tried to stay positive and tried to stay around the team as much as I could and help the team in ways I could off the field because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to help them on the field”.
Patience Pays Off…
When Dax finally returned to the field in 2017, he began to repay the faith and patience that Utah State had placed in him. His performance over the next two years helped the team achieve their best winning record for a number of years. It is an achievement he looks back fondly on.
“Greatest achievement of my college career? I would have to say this last season, with how well our team played. We had an amazing record, winning so many games in a row, back to back to back, that was one of the greatest feelings. There’s nothing better than winning a game and when we did it week after week after week, the drive that I could see in all of my team mate’s eyes, everyone was just so motivated. You could tell there was such a different atmosphere there, just from working hard and seeing all of our efforts were getting rewarded with wins, finally. It’s been years and years of hard work and finally getting to the top of the Mountain West and winning a bunch of games, that was one of the greatest feelings”.
From Mountain West To Mobile…
His performances in his final season, including his standout game versus Michigan State, lead to a Senior Bowl invitation. Dax put on a show all week in practice. The hard working ethic that has come to typify his approach to life was roundly praised. From Jim Nagy to The Draft Network, plaudits rolled in. He told me about his experience in that week.
“That was awesome…it was a great opportunity for me to not only represent myself but Utah State and the Mountain West, playing with the rest of the guys around the nation. I really feel like I did well and I showed that I could play with the best of the best…I really loved the offences that we were running and the plays that we were running. It was awesome to see the mindsets that they [NFL coaches] have and how their offensive schemes work. I really enjoyed it”.
The World’s Toughest Job Interview…
The Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine, Pro Days and individual workouts all make up the final part of the path to the draft. It is essentially the world’s toughest job interview. I asked Dax which part he felt was the most important.
“I’d say meeting the coaches and seeing them face to face and for them to see what kind of person I am. That’s probably been one of the most important things in my opinion. They can see what kind of guy I am, hopefully that’s the kind of guy they want on their team…I’m a guy they don’t have to worry about. I’m a guy that’s there to motivate and push the team to be better players and better team mates”.
In a little over two weeks, Roger Goodell will open the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s been seven years since Dax Raymond left high school with the dream of making it in to the NFL.
“I can’t even imagine getting drafted. I know it’s coming, and it’s probably going to happen. You know, it’s crazy, it’s a dream that is so close and it might become reality”.
Photo Credit: USA TODAY-Sports
A huge thank you to Dax Raymond for the interview. Also to Maggie Lyon and Rachel Stein at Priority Sports and Entertainment, who battled time zones to help schedule it!