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
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
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
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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