Preston’s father only played in the league until Preston was three years old. However, he recalls having friends over to watch his dad’s games that were queued up on the television.
Having a father that played in the NFL for any amount of time can be intimidating for some, but not for Duke Preston, who was up for the challenge.
“ Deep down, I just always had this intrinsic desire to want to do it. I think the early struggles for me were more flaws in my character from a toughness and resiliency standpoint. ”
“ Growing up with a dad who had played nine years in the league, some of my earliest football memories are of me setting up a pile of couch cushions in the living room floor. I would put a football at the bottom of it and I would dive into the pile of pillows as if it was a fumble recovery. ”
Hailing from California, Preston's childhood pursuits included basketball and baseball, eventually culminating in his recognition as an all-star baseball player. It was not until his freshman year in high school that Preston would take up football. In the four years before college, Preston went from hating the sport because of soreness from practice to committing to the University of Illinois to play Division 1 football.
“I just had to face the reality and face the music of what was holding me back and that was just me not wanting to do hard things,” said Preston.
In 2005, Preston was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round. “It was a full circle moment, having dreamt about it and hoped for it,” said Preston.
During his five-year career, Preston showcased versatility by playing various positions on the offensive line, including guard, tackle, and center. His contributions spanned across esteemed organizations such as the Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers, and the Dallas Cowboys.
Faith has always been important to Preston, who finds ways to incorporate it into the game. As a tradition, Preston would read Psalm 27, which addresses fear, prior to every game. “I was a fearful guy,” said Preston. “I struggled with the fear of failure and the fear of not reaching my potential.”
Preston experienced this firsthand when he confronted Chris Jenkins of the New York Jets in a regular-season game. Known for his formidable prowess, Jenkins posed a daunting challenge. However, with unwavering faith and confidence, Preston delivered one of his finest performances against the formidable opponent.
In 2010, Preston announced he was going to retire, onsetting the transition from NFL player to an everyday person. Preston had seen his father go through his own transition, struggling with finding his identity. Though he found the initial transition to be harder than expected, Preston was able to use his passion for faith to guide his transition journey with the first stop being the Dallas Theological Seminary.
“I knew that my time and the purpose of God making me 6’5 and 315 had run its course,” said Preston. “I knew my passion was changing to really wanting to serve and to be a blessing to this demographic of men.”
Now, Preston uses his faith and position as the Vice President of Player Engagement for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to assist players in meeting their goals by serving as a mirror. “For me and my job now, it’s something that motivates me to try to help frame our players NFL experience but then also come along side guys when they’re done to the best of my ability,” said Preston. “I am here to prompt and challenge the growth of our guys as men.”
Preston advises to players is to get started on thinking of a plan for transitioning out of the league, even if you are not close to retirement.
“Guys don’t need to know what they’re going to do but they need to get started on entry level steps of whatever field they are looking at going into,” said Preston. “That forward motion will put you in a spot to find something you’re passionate about.”
Preston believes that The Trust’s staff and resources can help guys build their curiosity, find their passion, and stay connected with the brotherhood that comes with playing in the NFL. “There is a team of people that are there to help but you have to initiate that.”
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