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Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via Associated Press
Utah State tight end Dax Raymond, left, catches a pass as New Mexico State defensive back Ray Buford Jr. (1) defends during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Logan, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — A few months ago Dax Raymond was rummaging through memorabilia when he found a drawing of a football he had made as a 5-year-old, accompanied by his boyhood declaration: “I’m going to go to the NFL.” Like most kids, he had NFL dreams; unlike most kids, he would have the size, ability and work ethic to realize them. This week Raymond is expected to be selected in the NFL draft.

Raymond, a tight end, gave up his senior year at Utah State to throw his lot in with the draft, even though he does not have impressive stats and does not expect to be picked until a late round. Why leave school early then? Athletes age in dog years and, as Raymond notes, “I’m 24, compared to (other prospects) who are 21 or 22 and have similar ability.”

Raymond also graduated in December and, as he explains, “There’s not much keeping me (in school). I could have a better year statistically maybe, but I’d be a year older and putting my body at risk. I heard enough from teams that I would get drafted. It’s been a dream my whole life, and I’ve done enough to show I can play at the next level.”

Raymond is older than other prospects because he served a two-year mission in Russia for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also sat out his second collegiate season after undergoing back surgery, which left him in a wheelchair briefly while he recovered.

" I try not to think about the draft. I’ve been nervous. It’s like opening a mission call. I can’t sleep at night if I let myself think about it. I’m ready to roll. "
Dax Raymond

When healthy, Raymond, who weighed 210 pounds in high school, pounded the weights and transformed himself to a solid 250 pounds over a 6-foot-5 frame. His girlfriend, Aspen Drecksel, who had left to serve her own church mission shortly after he had the back surgery, recalls, “When I came home, he was at the airport and I hugged him and my arms could barely reach around him. He was way bigger.”

In recent months, Drecksel, a track athlete, saw his determination in the weightroom. “He’d always do something extra — he’d say, ‘I’m going to do one more set for the NFL.”

Raymond had his best season in 2017 as a redshirt sophomore, catching 41 passes for 456 yards and one touchdown. Last season, in which he missed a couple of games with a broken hand, he caught 27 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. They are hardly dazzling numbers, but he caught the attention of NFL scouts and was the only USU player from an 11-win team to be invited to the NFL combine and the Senior Bowl.

Raymond has been targeted by so-called draft experts to be taken anywhere from the third to seventh round. It is a deep year for collegiate tight ends and Raymond’s ranking varies wildly at his position — sixth by CBS, 18th by Sports Illustrated, 13th by Draftcountdown, seventh by USA Today.

Some question his blocking ability and praise his route-running and pass-catching ability. USU used him largely in the slot position and designed plays for him, including middle screens, which speaks to his athleticism. His 40 time of 4.72 at the combine was disappointing, but a couple of weeks later he ran 4.58 and 4.62 at USU’s pro day.

“At the combine, I got to see how I stacked up against the other tight ends and I felt like I stacked up well,” he says. “I was coming from a smaller school and finally competing against them, and I didn’t feel like they were a step ahead of me.”

Raymond comes by his athleticism genetically. His father Ronn was a high jumper at BYU (his best mark of 7 feet 2¾ inches in 1988 still ranks as the ninth best jump in school history). His brother Ky played basketball at Southern Virginia, and his sister Taye, a junior at Orem High, is by far the best long jumper in the state at the moment, with a mark of 18 feet, 10 inches.

Scott G Winterton
Timpview's Dax Raymond tries to out run East's Jewka Patetefa as East and Timpview play Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, in semifinal action at Rice Eccles Stadium. Timpview won 32-14.

Dax played quarterback at Timpview High until switching to wide receiver as a senior, playing alongside Britain Covey, another converted quarterback who plays slot receiver at Utah. Just like that, a star was born.

Raymond caught 74 passes for 1,468 yards and a state record-tying 23 touchdowns en route to a state championship. He also was a third-team all-state basketball player.

And only one school offered him a scholarship.

Now he is drawing interest from numerous NFL teams — he says he has received inquiries from every franchise. “Last week I got a call from every team just to verify my (cell) number for draft day — some of them were teams I hadn’t even heard from.”

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After completing his degree in December, Raymond signed with an agent and moved to Carlsbad, California, to train for the combine for the next two months at the Exos facility. He worked from 7-5 daily on every aspect of the game to prep for the combine and the draft — 40 starts, shuttle drills, meetings with nutritionists and position coaches, film sessions, weight and speed training, massages, hot and cold tubs, physical therapy ...

“I try not to think about the draft,” says Raymond, who plans to watch all three days of the televised draft at his parents' home in Provo. “I’ve been nervous. It’s like opening a mission call. I can’t sleep at night if I let myself think about it. I’m ready to roll.”