The term "leap of faith" is often overused, but there aren't many other ways to describe what Fesi Sitake pitched to Dax Milne.
Milne, who had wrapped up his playing career at Bingham High School in Utah, already had a full-ride scholarship to Weber State lined up. Coincidentally, it was an offer that Sitake, who was previously on the Wildcats' offensive staff, had convinced Milne to accept. But Sitake had become BYU's receivers coach near the end of the recruiting period, and now he was sitting in Milne's house telling him to enroll at BYU and become a preferred walk-on.
"I know you can earn a scholarship here," Sitake told Milne at the time. "You have all the tools and the ability in the world to do that."
It took a couple of days, but eventually Milne had his mind set on coming to BYU and competing for an opportunity to earn a scholarship. He would need to show he deserved a spot on the roster and could have a meaningful impact on the team. But after four seasons, including one of the most statistically successful seasons for a receiver in 2020, it is clear the gamble Milne made was the right decision.
Sitake did not think it was a hard decision for Milne to make, mostly because he had developed a close relationship with the receiver. He knew Milne wanted to play at the highest level, and he had the ability to do it, too. Everything recruiters look for was there, Sitake said, from his reflexes to his quickness and ball skills.
Still, the scholarship from Weber State had already been offered, which as Sitake said, is "not a little difference." Milne could have just stuck with the sure thing in Weber State, which would have been the easier choice. All Sitake could do is tell Milne that he believed in his potential.
"The same reasons I offered him a scholarship at Weber," Sitake said, "were the same reasons I wanted him to come to BYU."
BYU gives walk-on spots to players it truly thinks will get a scholarship at some point, and all it took was about two weeks for Milne to convince the Cougars' coaches that he was deserving of that honor. Whether it was making a block or hauling in a contested pass, Milne was making their heads turn. He did everything that was asked of him, Sitake said, and he did it on a consistent basis.
"He was the guy that was showing up to every meeting prepared, knowing what to do," Sitake said. "There was no room for error in that guy. He showed up every day. And when you string together three-and-a-half weeks of that, you get a guy who you really can rely on."
Milne was performing so well that he was starting to get grouped with some of BYU's most talented young players. He and Gunner Romney, who was a three-star recruit and the 11th-best prospect in Arizona at the time, got meaningful snaps ahead of two seniors, one of which was a two-year starter, during the 2018 season. It would have been easier for Sitake to just play the upperclassmen, but Milne and Romney had earned that opportunity.
"It made my job hard," Sitake said. "And I'm glad they did because it put the right guys on the field."
Milne was not packing the box score every weekend during his freshman year -- he only had 10 receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown in 10 appearances -- but he was going against defensive backs who had more experience than him. Sitake tried to look at Milne's development through a different lens. He kept giving the walk-on chances, which turned into confidence and better numbers in later seasons. Milne might have had some growing pains, but Sitake saw that he was close to being the player the Cougars needed him to be in the future.
Eventually, Sitake and the rest of BYU's coaches had seen enough; they were going to offer him a scholarship. That had to wait until his freshman season was over, but they told him a few months early. Sitake, the one who had convinced Milne to become a walk-on over taking a scholarship, was the one to tell him the news.
"To see Dax, the relief on his face, the joy, the tears, the emotion," Sitake said. "He knew he had a lot to go, but it was a burden lifted off his shoulders, that the risk he took is starting to pay off."
Milne still has a long way to go as a seventh-round pick. He will have to compete with a group of talented receivers to make the roster. But after making 70 receptions for 1,188 yards, which was fourth in the NCAA, and eight touchdowns, he has shown that he can produce with some of the best receivers in this year's draft class. And if Milne's professional career is anything like his time at BYU, Sitake thinks it will be fun to watch.
"He's an unbelievable young man," Sitake said of Milne. "He's going to be easy to root for. And I think he's going to continue to progress just as he's done here."