Raymond Preston III credits his father for who he is on and off the field.
The elder Preston played nine NFL seasons as an outside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers. His son, offensive lineman Duke Preston, was the Buffalo Bills' fourth-round draft choice out of Illinois in 2005. On Thursday, he agreed to a two-year contract with the Green Bay Packers. Preston, who will be in Green Bay this week for offseason workouts, is expected to compete for a starting job or provide depth at center and both guard positions.
On Saturday night, Preston talked to Packer Report. In an exclusive interview, he talked about the importance of his dad as well as his love of surfing. Yeah, a 6-foot-5, 326-pound surfer.
Your dad was a linebacker, right?
Yeah, my dad played nine years with the Chargers as an outside linebacker. He didn't really know what he was looking at when he saw an offensive guy.
How big of influence was he on your life?
He played a big part. Both of my parents were really instrumental in my development. The biggest thing I can say about both of them, and my dad specifically, is they never really pushed me to do anything. Athletically or football-wise, it was never one of those parents out there pushing their kid to do more or do whatever. I was the one who set pretty lofty goals for myself. My dad just told me, ‘Whatever you want to do, just be great at it. If football is what you want to do or baseball, I'll show you what it takes to be better and to be the best you can be and get the most out of what God gifted you to be.' That was his biggest encouragement to me.
I was just going to ask about baseball. I've read that you were pretty good.
I didn't play football until I got to high school. I was a big kid growing up and would have to play with much older kids playing Pop Warner and youth leagues. So, I waited. I played baseball, from T-ball all the way up to high school and my senior year. I had already signed my letter of intent to play (football) for Illinois once my senior season of baseball was coming up, but I still got some interest from some California schools. I actually played a few games up in Los Angeles with the Detroit Tigers' scout team before I went off to Illinois. That was kind of a cool thing. Baseball in San Diego is pretty big. I actually graduated from the same high school as Eric Chavez of the A's. But, yeah, I was a baseball player. I was a catcher. I loved it, man. It's definitely a sport I still follow and love.
Did you have a pretty big stick?
Yeah. I hit a lot of home runs, man, but I was hitting out of the 3 hole because I was consistent. I had a pretty solid batting average, but I could get it out there, man. I hit a lot of home runs.
I read that you're a surfer. Pretty good?
Yeah, surfing and bodyboard. Mostly board. One of my good friends I played golf with yesterday, he was a former professional bodyboarder. I grew up a good 15, 20 minutes away from the water, so I couldn't help it. In high school, my buddies would drag me out there and I kind of got into it and got hooked. I'm definitely a good swimmer.
Not many 320-pound surfers I'm guessing.
No, not too many. I'm glad (coach Mike) McCarthy is kind of billing me as an athletic dude. I think I am. Shoot, if I can get out on the water and do what I do out there, I think that's pretty athletic.
I heard you're a good golfer. Used to be a 3-handicap. Are you still that good?
My golf game goes in cycles, because once training camp starts — actually, a week or two before training camp starts — I put my clubs away until the team I'm on is eliminated from the playoffs. I pick it up, and when I first start, I have a couple good rounds, but then it goes down, then it comes back up. Usually, the best golf I play is in the late summer. I'm pretty good, but I'm trying to keep that under wraps because I know there's a couple guys that play in that locker room. I'm going to try to win some money in the Skins Game.
Well, we'll just keep that between ourselves. Any other hobbies?
I have a heart for children. In Buffalo, I did a lot of things in the community in terms of going out and speaking with kids and speaking at schools and stuff. That's one of the things I really enjoy. Maybe even going into the youth ministry through church one day when I'm done with football. It's something I really enjoy, and knowing I'm a positive influence on young kids can really just change lives and get them to expect more from themselves than maybe they would. Set goals and reach higher. It's amazing what people can do when someone believes in them and tells them more is possible than they think. It's pretty fulfilling.
Where did that interest come from?
I guess I grew up in a pretty nice community and I played ball growing up and even in high school with so many kids who had so much ability and talent but, for whatever reason, no one really went on to do much with it. I was really lucky to have my parents and the infrastructure at home to where they encouraged me and pushed me to do more. My high school coach didn't really think I could do the stuff that I told him I wanted to do. In the end, you just see how much higher you can go when you believe those things are possible and you have people telling you and reinforcing the possibilities that are out there. My dad used to coach our Little League team, and we won countless championships from 10 up to 13 or 14. We didn't always have the best talent, but my dad had this way of bringing out the best in kids. Just seeing these kids go nuts when you have someone encourage them and believe in them. Then they go to other teams and the managers would ask, ‘What's wrong with so-and-so? He doesn't play like he did when you had him.' He just had this unique ability to really make kids light up when they were around him. It's a cool thing, and that's what I love to do in my part now that I've done some pretty cool things in my life and see if I can get some other kids to dream big, also.
Last question for you: Where did the nickname "Duke" come from?
(Laughs) Oh, man. I can't tell you the whole story, man. I'll wait on that a little bit. It came from my older sister. She's two years older than me. She wanted a sister, so she was mad that I was a boy. She wouldn't call me by my given name, so she came up with a little nickname for me. I can't really share it, but it got shortened to Duke and that's pretty much it. I've got to set myself up before I start letting all them stories out.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport