SALT LAKE CITY — In sports, athletes play for the name on the front of the jersey.
Like tens of thousands of missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints each year, former USU tight end Dax Raymond essentially turned in his given first name for the title “Elder” for two years.
It was “forgetting” his first name that’s helped him become a better teammate as Raymond — who served in the Russia Vladivostok mission — focuses on becoming a pro football player after signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Chicago Bears in late April following the 2019 NFL draft.
“I wouldn’t be at this point in my life if it wasn’t for my mission. Leaving your family, your friends, football for two years — you can only speak with your family via email once a week. You forget your first name. You’re just, what can I do to help others?” Raymond said in his installment of the Bears’ “Meet the Rookies” video series that hit social media Wednesday night.
“I think that two years of just living there and serving there, when I got home, I had a different work ethic and a different mindset that really just changed me,” he said.
Raymond, who went undrafted before signing in Chicago, is one of three first-year pros featured this summer in the Bears’ “Meet the Rookies” video series, along with Iowa State running back David Montgomery, a third-round draft pick, and Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley, a fourth-round selection. It’s the fifth year of the series.
The former Aggie and Timpview High standout left for his mission not long after graduating high school, and when he returned to the states, Raymond needed a year to get back in football shape.
It was worth the sacrifice.
“From the second you wake up to the second you go to bed, it’s what can I do to help the people of wherever you’re serving?” Raymond said, adding, “I loved every second of it.”
Raymond played a key role in Utah State’s passing attack the past two seasons, catching 68 passes for 801 yards and three touchdowns over that stretch while earning honorable mention All-Mountain West honors in 2017 and 2018.
“This is an individual who’s smart, he’s competitive and he’s versatile. Guys at Utah State, you want to see them stand out relative to their Mountain West competition and he’s a guy who really stood out from a receiving standpoint,” Bears area scout David Williams said in the profile piece.
Raymond is one of 11 Utah ties currently on NFL rosters as an undrafted rookie. While the odds are against them to make the 53-man active roster when the season begins in September, the opportunity is there to stick in the league.
Understanding Raymond's Latter-day Saint upbringing played a role in connecting with his position coach in Chicago, Kevin Gilbride Jr., who briefly attended BYU in the late 1990s before transferring to Hawaii.6 comments on this story
“That was a connection right there,” Gilbride told The Athletic. “When things start falling in the draft — and we were surprised that he wasn’t drafted, as well — I just talked about how he could make an impact here. (I) talked to him about our tight end situation, where we’re at and where I thought he could fit in.”
Raymond made strong impressions in Chicago during organized team activities and minicamps earlier this offseason. Up next, following a few weeks away, is Bears training camp. Chicago rookies report to camp July 22.
While it won't help him as he tries to make the regular-season active roster, if Raymond sticks in notoriously cold Chicago, he can take some lessons from notoriously cold Russia.