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2008 Conversations

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2006 Conversations

Conversation: Duke Preston

Out of his father's shadow

By Chad Bonham

Duke Preston grew up in the shadow of his father — former NFL linebacker Raymond Preston. But after starring at the University of Illinois, Duke was drafted by the Buffalo Bills who utilize his skills on the offensive line. Recently Duke Preston spoke to Chad Bonham about football, faith and life.

tpe: What was it like growing up as the son of an NFL star?

PRESTON: I was 3 years old when my dad retired, so I don't remember going to the games. I do remember in my early elementary years when Dad used to take me around to all of the alumni events and just being around the guys that he played with. We would go to the alumni games and walk down the tunnel with all the old guys and go out and stand on the field before the game.

The best part of it for my sister and me was that my parents were always around. My dad was always around to coach my Little League teams and things of that nature. It was great to have both of my parents really involved in everything I did.

tpe: What are some life lessons your father taught you?

PRESTON: Whatever you do, do it right. Do it to the best of your ability. That was a key for me growing up. People ask me all the time if I felt pressure growing up with a dad who played nine years in the NFL. I really didn't, because everything he stressed in our home was to do everything the right way and do it to the best of your ability. When Dad was coaching me in Little League baseball, he'd have us run a lap over to a tree. We had to run all the way around the tree, not up to the tree or close enough to where you could almost touch it, but all the way around the tree. I'm positive I'm where I am today because Dad taught me how to do things right and to do them right consistently.

tpe: How important is the concept of biblical integrity to you?

PRESTON: So many people will drive as fast as they can, and as soon as they see a cop they slam on the brakes. But you don't have anything to fear if you stay within the law all the time. As an athlete, you might try to win your coach's favor or the respect of your teammates, but as Christians and as Christian athletes, in terms of living our lives with integrity, we need to keep an eternal perspective. We're doing our work and we're playing our sport unto the Lord and for His glory — not so much to be looked at by men and to have our fans look at us and glorify ourselves.

tpe: When did you first start to have an understanding of who God is and the importance of having a relationship with Jesus?

PRESTON: Growing up in a Christian household like I did, my athletics and my life were God-centered from a young age. I correlated the integrity of my parents with biblical wisdom and biblical principles. I always felt convicted. I could hear God speaking to me and really talking to my heart from a very young age in terms of knowing what He did and didn't want me to do. My parents' instructions were reinforcing the principles I knew.

Whenever I struggled with something or I was afraid of something, whether it was performing athletically or taking a test at school, the first thing we always did was pray. God was very real to me. When I was stressed out about pitching my first Little League game as an 11-year-old, I read Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" That spoke to me at a young age.

tpe: You and your wife do a lot of work with at-risk kids. How important is it for today's children to have positive role models at home and in the community?

PRESTON: It's huge. It really makes me feel lucky to have parents who pointed me in the right direction. They instilled in me that in times of trouble you take refuge in God and His grace. So many people try to rely on themselves, and that's almost a foreign concept to me because I always run to God.

Kids these days don't have that. They don't have the hope in knowing that God loves them. There's that power in Jesus we have access to through prayer and the Word. That's one of the reasons why I like to go out and speak. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to make it to where I am now so I would have a platform to go talk to kids. It's such a passion of mine to see the faces of kids and think back to when I was that age and remember what I was thinking about and the hopes I had.

I'm still geeked on what I get to do now. I get to play on Monday Night Football. That's a dream come true. For someone like me who really felt God move in my life from when I first started playing sports until now, it's really important for me to go out and talk to kids and tell them to dream just as big and help give them the confidence in knowing that God is faithful and He will take you to where He wants you to be. It may not be exactly the plans you have, but He has great plans for all that He has called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

tpe: What do you tell kids you work with — especially those who don't have a strong sense of moral and biblical guidance in the home?

PRESTON: That's the hardest job. You just look at the moral standing of our world today and the stuff that you see on TV and all the things that young people are exposed to today. It was hard when I was in middle school and high school to stand firm on my principles. I can only imagine how much harder it is now. Christian values and Christian morals are getting increasingly further away from the norm in society.

So I tell kids to cling to God. Cling to the things that you know to be true in terms of the Word. You've got to find something like Fellowship of Christian Athletes to get involved with and try to find people who are like-minded with you. I had a few people growing up who had goals like I had and were willing to sacrifice certain things and maybe sacrifice being part of the cool crowd. Try to find friends like that — people who will stand strong with you in times when you feel like you're standing out like a sore thumb because you don't really believe the same things that other people believe.

tpe: How do you deal with the challenges of being a young man living in the fast-paced NFL lifestyle?

PRESTON: It's hard because it's such a pseudo reality. You're only in your 20s and you're making a paycheck that's just absurd. Everyone wants to be your friend and everyone wants to be around you. It's real easy to get caught up in what people think of you and then all of a sudden you start to think more highly of yourself than you should.

For me, it's just been a challenge to keep that same godly perspective and that same biblical perspective. God planned for me to be here. It's no accident that I'm in Buffalo. It's no accident that I was drafted where I was. I have to keep the perspective that God has something He wants me to do for His purpose here. It shouldn't be about me and all that I have. All of that stuff comes with it when you're living according to God's purpose.

tpe: Ultimately, what helps you keep your head on straight when things get crazy?

PRESTON: This NFL career is such a passing thing. It's so short. It's easy to get wrapped up in, but it's the wrong thing to get wrapped up in. My dad played for nine years, but it was good that I got to see the end of it when there was no more hype, no more autographs and he was retired. It's a totally different animal. Because of that, I've always had a pretty good perspective because it's so passing.

It's really no different from how God does it. He's going to get your attention one way or another. It's always interesting to see how God gets His will accomplished. He's going to do it one way or another.

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