Growing up, Preston Brown wanted to be a football player like his father. Now that he’s established himself in the NFL, Preston Brown seeks to emulate Mike Brown, the educator.
“My father’s a phys. ed. teacher and a football coach, ” the Bills linebacker said. "So I want to find ways to give back to the kids in the community."
Brown launched his Preston’s Playbook community outreach program this month, assisting with a Make-A-Wish campaign and sponsoring the rental of stadium lights that will allow Niagara-Wheatfield High School to host its first Friday Night Lights game this week.
While Brown has hosted youth football camps and spoken at juvenile courts in his native Cincinnati, Preston’s Playbook will focus on Western New York.
“This community is really lucky to have him,” said Justin Gilmore, a Niagara-Wheatfield graduate and former teammate of Brown’s at the University of Louisville. “Preston is really Buffalo. He’s a blue-collar worker. He comes from a great family that has instilled really good values. And he’s really passionate about kids. That’s his big thing.”
Brown helped run a football camp and played in a charity basketball game Gilmore organized last year in Niagara Falls. The two are now collaborating on Brown’s upstart program.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to team up with Justin and help the community,” Brown said. “He’s doing things to help me give back and I’m helping him give back as well.”
Brown’s donation allowed Niagara-Wheatfield to rent 10 lighting towers for Friday night’s homecoming game at Terry Harvey Field.
“To play under the lights on Friday night, that’s all you think about in high school,” Brown said. “To have those kids have the opportunity of having a homecoming game and be under the lights, it’s going to be a great experience for all of them.”
Unable to attend Friday’s game because of an obligation back home in Cincinnati, Brown made a surprise visit to Niagara-Wheatfield’s football practice last week on the Bills’ day off. Brown answered questions from players for about 20 minutes, including his honest opinion of Rex Ryan (“He’s a great guy”), the hardest player he’s ever tried to tackle (“LeSean McCoy in practice”), and the rigors of being a college student-athlete.
“These younger players aspire to be Preston Brown and play at the next level,” Niagara-Wheatfield coach Russ Nixon said. “For them to hear from that person, it kind of opens their eyes a little.”
Anthony Gilmore, the Niagara-Wheatfield JV coach and Justin’s father, said he was proud to see both his son and “my Godson” Brown giving back to the youth. During Brown’s rookie year with the Bills, he spent Father’s Day at the Gilmore home.
“Preston’s a great person from a great family, and I consider him part of my family now,” Anthony Gilmore said.
Brown and Gilmore plan on coordinating monthly community outreach events. “We’re doing some stuff with the Boys & Girls Club, and as far as education, we’re going to do something real special for student-athletes with high GPAs,” Gilmore said.
The Niagara-Wheatfield game was supposed to kick off the Preston’s Playbook initiative. But when Brown heard about 2016-17 Peach Queen of Niagara County Angela Beiter’s fundraising drive for Make-A-Wish, he felt compelled to help.
“She wanted people to know that just because you get a Make-A-Wish trip, it doesn’t mean you’re going to die,” Gilmore said. “She was really passionate about it, and to see that in a young person, Preston wanted to support her. That’s the type of person he is. And I want to make sure that people in this community know who he is and what he’s about.”