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Where are They Now? Preston Dennard

When New Mexico wide receiver Preston Dennard wasn't chosen in the 1978 NFL Draft, his Plan B was actually Plan L.A.

"Harold Daniels was my agent, and after that last pick, I got frustrated and went for a walk," Dennard said. "When I got back, Harold said eight teams called (about signing as a free agent), but we're going to go to L.A. and we're going to sign a contract with them.

"So I went out there and met (the Rams' scout) Jack Faulkner and (general manager) Don Klosterman, and I got what was considered the first free agent signing bonus, $1,500."

Clearly not enough to retire on, Dennard went to training camp and put all his money on trying to impress Rams receivers coach Lionel Taylor.

And he did.

"I didn't get drafted I was told because I was very thin and they kind of thought I would maybe break on the first NFL hit," the 6-1, 178-pound Dennard laughed. "He admired my quick feet. He knew I could catch the ball and that's always been my thing. The bottom line, I could run routes."

Injured and released during camp, Dennard was signed by the Rams after the season was underway and played in the last 11 games. During his second season, he'd make 11 starts and help Los Angeles win its seventh consecutive division title, earn the NFC Championship, and meet Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV.

Other than the final score, 31-19 Steelers, what's something Dennard hasn't forgotten about the experience?

"That night before the Super Bowl, I had this huge dream. I was going to be the MVP. I was going to make my signature diving catch and be hoisted above Dennis Harrah's and Jackie Slater's shoulders and walk off the field as the champion. Well, of course, none of that happened," he said with a laugh.

"That Super Bowl was the stage for me to introduce me, to show people, and it just turned out to be a beautiful thing. I had a successful day, especially in the first half, running routes, being open. Then for some reason, they didn't get the ball to me. I think I caught like three balls in a row and that was the extent of it. We came up short, but it is still a blessing for me today.

"The stage was set for the rest of my career athletically. It just was a blessing to be a part of it because there were so many stumbling blocks along the way that would have kept me from being there on that stage."

On the Rams' stage for six of his eight seasons in the NFL, Dennard was with Los Angeles from 1978-83, totaling 189 receptions for 3,066 yards and 21 touchdowns. What makes him most proud of his career?

"Being in it. Being there. Being recognized for it. Being told you were a great receiver, we liked seeing you play, you played the game right. All the compliments that people would give you confirms you made an impression on the NFL," said Dennard, who also spent one season each with Buffalo and Green Bay.

"And probably the second, all of my opponents. Just their respect of my game and playing against Hall of Famers who I had success playing against. And guys that I could run routes on that other guys couldn't.

"And to come away from the game with a very respectful career. I think, jumping ahead, it culminated when the Rams moved back to L.A. and they gave me a day at the Coliseum. They introduced me and I was tickled that the crowd remembered and recognized me with great applause."

For the past 16 years, Dennard has enjoyed a great career with Sport Surfaces Distributing Inc. as its Director of Sales and Marketing.

"It's athletic surface applications. We install, market, and sell. We install rubber, wood, track, any kind of athletic surface you can think of. We do everything," Dennard said. "We represent a number of manufacturers, and our biggest one is Mondo. Mondo is the Olympics' main running track material and has been there for the last 13 Olympic Games. But we have other manufacturers that we can go anywhere in the country with turf and track.

"And we are big with the military and medical. We've got jobs in Djibouti, Africa, Okinawa. I've been to Mexico on jobs. So there's certain products we can go and do nationally and internationally, but we really focus on the southwest, West Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and a little bit of Southern Colorado.

"I'm a different kind of sales guy. I'm a relationship seeker. I may not sell something that day, but I know that they'll call me back just because they had a great experience with me. I'm able to really help people look good in their facilities. That's what I'm proud of. I've got what they need and our stuff is really good. It lasts forever."

The father of five and grandfather of seven, Dennard and his wife, Angela, make their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Also a motivational speaker, Dennard is in the process of writing his autobiography – A Walk in My Shoes. Expected to be published early next year, the book will share Dennard's experiences and how they've led him to where he is now.

One example is how even though he got off to a late start participating in youth sports, it helped him overcome a speech impediment – stuttering.

"It was so bad, I couldn't even breathe, I couldn't get words out. And as a young guy in class, I was always up front in the classroom. But you know how our peers are. You raise your hand and you can't get it out, they laugh. I started moving to the back of the room where they couldn't see me, and I lived that as a young guy," Dennard said.

"My dad would always say, 'Son, let's watch a game,' or 'let's go out and catch the ball.' I didn't want to do any of that. So, long story short, and this is relative to athletics, one day I did. And it happened to be the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams. I watched it and it was impressive. And the next thing I know I had a jersey of O.J. Simpson, and I ended playing youth football. The skinniest kid out there and the rookie, so to speak in the eighth grade, it seemed like everybody had played five or six years already.

"I migrated from a skinny nose tackle to quarterback. And what does a quarterback have to do? Open his mouth and talk. I was so scared, but it was so natural. As soon as I got off the field, I stuttered horribly, but I was self-conditioned by athletics. It was important. I loved it. It brought self-esteem."

Dennard feels his book will show that anyone can conquer challenges if they are focused and driven. And that anyone can overcome someone else's negativity.

"I always had opinions about me based on my stuttering impediment and was told I couldn't make it. I just want people to realize, it doesn't matter," Dennard said. "Have I been unfairly treated? Has prejudice and racism been an issue in my life? Oh, yeah. Of course. But I either can quit, I can give up, I can run and hide, or I can stand up and prove to people I'm not who you think I am. I'm bigger, greater, stronger than that. I'm a Christian, so I believe Jesus Christ doesn't build any weaklings on this earth. We're a prized gift and possession of his, and so I lived that life.                                        

"The book is going to detail challenges, which everybody's got in their lives. But if there's one young athlete who is hesitant because he feels he's a little overweight or he's been teased or someone doesn't get the chance to prove themselves, and not just young men, young ladies, that's my whole deal. Believe in yourself and put your best foot forward."

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