Senior Elijah Preston will lead St. Augustine against Cathedral Catholic in Friday’s Holy Bowl.
Elijah Preston sits in the St. Augustine High football office, discussing the trials of being vertically challenged at 5 feet, 5 inches, combined with a statue-of-David 180 pounds.
Take clothes. Pants must be big enough to fit over tree-trunk thighs, hence trousers are rolled up. Shirts must fit that ox-like neck, so they’re cuffed at the sleeves.
“You adjust,” says Preston.
Defenses only wish it were that easy to adjust to Preston. Finally a senior, Preston is challenging the San Diego Section record book. In a region that has produced Heisman Trophy running backs Marcus Allen, Reggie Bush, Ricky Williams and Rashaan Salaam, Preston is the section’s third all-time-leading rusher with 6,165 yards.
He’ll add to that total Friday night when No. 3 St. Augustine (5-2) visits No. 5 Cathedral Catholic (4-3) in the parochial-school rivalry known as the Holy Bowl. Told no Knute Rockne speeches are necessary this week, St. Augustine coach Richard Sanchez referenced last week’s blowout victory over Morse.
“They’ve definitely been up since the fourth quarter of the Morse game,” Sanchez says.
As for Preston, if you haven’t seen the dynamo in action, go to the Internet and catch some of his highlights. What you’ll witness is an athlete born to run with the football tucked in the crook of his elbow.
On one play from the Saints’ 18 he bursts through a hole, spins off a would-be tackler eight yards past the line of scrimmage, muscles through two more defenders six yards later, hits the right sideline, cuts back against a DB at the 50 and applies the afterburners for an 82-yard TD.
“Personally,” says Madison coach Rick Jackson, “I think he’s the best running back in San Diego.”
In his last two games against the Warhawks, Preston has carried the ball 61 times for 528 yards and four TDs.
“He’s physical, he’s explosive, he’s really patient as a runner,” adds Jackson. “He breaks tackles. He makes guys miss. He’s really good.”
If only Division I football coaches believed.
Almost certainly scared off by Preston’s height, no Division I university has offered a scholarship. The only schools recruiting him thus far are Northern Arizona and Cal Poly, Football Championship Subdivision programs.
“It doesn’t make me mad,” Preston says. “It’s more of a motivation.”
Make no mistake, Preston carries a chip on those sculpted shoulders.
“When he’s on the field,” says Sanchez, “you better believe he has a Napoleon complex.”
As you would expect, Preston’s running back role models are short. The first he mentions is 5-foot-8 Branden Oliver, the Chargers’ second-year player who was undrafted out of Buffalo but went on to lead the Bolts in rushing last season.
“He really inspires me, thinking how hard he’s worked to get to the NFL,” says Preston.
Oliver wears No. 43. The man who wore it before him for the Chargers, Darren Sproles, more closely resembles Preston. At 5-6, 190 pounds, Sproles, now darting out of the backfield for the Eagles, is only 1 inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Preston.
What makes Preston so difficult to tackle is his combination of speed, strength and vision, the latter an innate ability to read blockers and defenders, creating angles, then darting into open space.
As for speed, Preston ran track the previous two seasons, running a leg on the Saints’ 4x100 relay in 2013 that advanced to the state meet.
“Once I break through the hole and see daylight nobody’s going to catch me,” he says.
Preston is grouped for weightlifting workouts with the strongest Saints, including a lineman. He squats 430 pounds and bench presses 305.
“We still don’t know how he does it,” says teammate Francoise Sims II, a friend since elementary school. “He actually wants to be a bodybuilder.”
In some ways, Preston’s short stature works in his favor.
Sims recalls a game when a frustrated defender said, “The only reason I can’t tackle him is I can’t see him until he’s next to me. Then when he’s next to me, I still can’t tackle him because he’s too fast.”
Quiet by nature, Preston is an animal lover. His family owns two dogs, a pit bull, plus a Rhodesian Ridgeback/German shepherd mix. The menagerie includes a snake, mice bred for the snake and a betta fish. At times he owned an albino horned frog, turtles and rabbits.
“Animals bring out a peace in me,” he says.
All of Preston’s creatures give Sims the creeps.
“I’m afraid of spiders,” Sims admits. “Elijah, he just picks them up. That guy’s afraid of nothing.”
San Diego Section career rushing leaders:
Yards / Name / School / Years
7,601 / Royce Freeman / Imperial / 2010-13
6,694 / Ricky Seale / Escondido / 2006-09
6,165 / Elijah Preston / St. Augustine / 2012-15
5,650 / Demetrius Sumler / USDHS-Cathedral Catholic / 2002-05
5,547 / Tyler Gaffney / Cathedral Catholic / 2006-08
5,539 / Dillon Baxter / Mission Bay / 2006-09
5,397 / Justin Green / USDHS / 1997-99
5,158 / Markeith Ross / Rancho Buena Vista / 1988-90
5,112 / Lawrence Walker / Christian / 2004-07
5,039 / Patrick Gates / Marian Catholic / 2000-2003
4,982 / Rashaan Salaam / LJ Country Day / 1989-91
Year-by-year totals for Elijah Preston:
Year / Att / Yards / Avg / TD
2012 / 194 / 1,534 / 7.9 / 14
2013 / 159 / 1,481 / 9.3 / 17
2014 / 254 / 1,937 / 7.6 / 23
2015 / 119 / 1,213 / 10.2 / 13