In the state of Oklahoma, being the starting quarterback at Tulsa’s Jenks High School is like wearing a crown of royalty. Just ask actor/filmmaker Brian Presley, who held the position for three years as a teenager. But, as part of a Christian home, Presley knew his role was about more than football, so he maximized his platform by standing for his faith, even being named the state’s FCA Athlete of the Year as a senior in 1996. Even then he knew he was called to make a difference in the world for Christ.
After high school, Presley was recruited as a walk-on to the University of Arkansas football team and was set to transfer to the University of Oklahoma for his sophomore season when he felt God nudging him to make a dramatic shift in direction—specifically west.
Through a friend, he’d taken the opportunity to spend his summer break in Hollywood and had landed a role in a McDonald’s commercial. Seeing the darkness in the world around him, Presley felt a desire to reach out to and through the entertainment industry by creating positive films that would, directly or indirectly, communicate the truth of Christ.
“With the release of Touchback I am seizing every opportunity to share what I’ve learned: that God’s grace and forgiveness are real and deep, and that His love is amazing!”
But the road less traveled is usually less traveled for a reason.
After a passionate start, Presley eventually found himself at a greater depth of darkness than he ever thought possible for a one-time star quarterback with a bright future.
Still, the Lord had a plan, and part of that plan is being revealed this spring with the release of Presley’s new movie Touchback. It’s a film that not only helped Presley himself to heal, but one that he hopes will also bring healing to others. In light of what Christ has done to bring the 34-year-old actor, father and husband back to life, Presley wants to reflect the glory both by sharing his story and giving a portion of the film’s proceeds back to ministries that have made a difference in his life, including FCA.
The following is Brian Presley’s story, told in his own words. May it truly “touch” your heart.
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Growing up in Tulsa, God truly was the focal point of my life. I was active in my church and also served as the leader of our FCA Huddle at Jenks High School. Through FCA, God used me to share His truth with others, and I enjoyed being able to help build His Kingdom.
At the age of 19, I decided to hang up the football helmet and move to Hollywood. I felt God calling me to become a voice for Him in the world of entertainment and to be a role model to young people through movies and TV. I began working on different TV shows, and it wasn’t long before I was able to make a living as an actor. I’d caught the “break,” and life was great.
At this time, I also found the love of my life: a beautiful Christian girl from Seattle who loved God, family and fly fishing. Needless to say, I didn’t let Erin get away. We’ve now been married for nine years and have two beautiful children.
During my early years in Hollywood, I was still active in a church, helping lead the youth group, and also working with our pastors to launch a new church in a suburb of L.A. I felt like I was making a difference and in line with the will of God. At that same time, I also felt called to start my own film production company. I wanted to make inspirational movies with good messages that would bless the entire family—something I felt was lacking in the film and TV world.
This was going to be my ministry. I was going to make family-friendly films that allowed me to spread God’s Word. It sounded great, but it wasn’t exactly the road I chose.
As the quarterback at Jenks High School, Presley was named the Oklahoma FCA Athlete of the Year in 1996.
Initially, I was able to raise a large sum of money to invest in these movies, but that included putting all of my earnings into the company in order to get it going.
The first few movies I did went against everything positive I said I was going to do. They were filled with language and sex and were not the kind of films I wanted my mom and dad to be watching. I justified it, however, by telling myself it was no big deal and that they were good business deals. “After we finish these films,” I said to myself, “and once they start making money, then we can make the inspirational films.” My heart began to harden as I fixated on my selfish desires.
Slowly, I stopped going to church and began surrounding myself with negative influences. I began hiding financial information from my wife and telling her that everything was just great. In my self-absorbed life, I also led my family to start living outside our means. We built a house we couldn’t afford and based our lives on things that had no spiritual value. Erin would constantly tell me that we needed to get back in church, but I resisted, giving her every excuse in the book. As the man of my house, I was not being the spiritual leader God had called me to be, but that didn’t matter to me. As investors continued to spend millions of dollars on my films, I thought I was on top of the world and that I finally had life figured out. Little did I know I was on a slow, downward spiral.
During the Christmas and New Year’s season of 2006-07, everything came tumbling down around me. God blessed my wife and me with our first son, Jackson Gunnar Presley, on Jan. 7, 2007, which was an amazing gift. However, it came at a difficult time as, just three weeks prior to his birth, I had received word that the studio distributing one of our films had decided not to release the movie wide in theaters and were going to send it straight to DVD. Five million dollars was going to be lost if the film didn’t have a chance to come out at the box office, and I was responsible for it. My worst nightmare was happening at the same time that Erin and I were being blessed with the gift of our child.
Because my wife had been nine months pregnant when I’d learned the news, I kept a lot of it to myself, not wanting to upset her. But the walls were caving in on me at rapid speed, and they would keep closing in for longer than I ever could have imagined.
For the next few years, I tried to figure out how I was going to climb out of the dark hole I was in—the key word there being “I.” I was going to do it. I had no plans to turn to God and humble myself at the foot of the cross, and I wasn’t going to turn to my family either.
Slowly I began to incur more and more debt. In order to ease the pain, I started drinking more heavily in private, which only made it worse. I was responsible for the loss of millions and on the verge of bankruptcy—a nightmare from which I didn’t know how to escape—and all I wanted I to do was numb the pain. Several times I considered taking my own life because that would at least relieve me and my family of the massive debt I’d put us in.
Eventually, my wife and I lost our house, and we wound up relocating to the same suburb in which I’d helped start that church eight years prior.
I was defeated, deflated and felt like a complete failure. I’d always been taught that there was nothing you couldn’t do if God was your No. 1 priority, but I thought I was in too big a hole even for God, and I started to blame Him for the situation and turn farther away.
“How could this possibly have happened?” I thought to myself at one particular low point. I’d ravaged my body so severely that I found myself lying in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors telling me that my kidneys and liver were starting to shut down from substances I’d put in my body. “How did a kid from Oklahoma, who was the FCA president of his high school and quarterback of his football team, get this far away from God?”
Because FCA made such an impact on his life as a young man, Brian Presley and the film’s investors have decided to donate two percent of all proceeds from Touchback to the ministry.
“FCA was the first that came to my mind,” Presley said. “It helped me develop and share my faith, and it’s still shaping the lives of young people today.”
As the Oklahoma FCA Athlete of the Year in 1996, Presley and his family were under the ministry direction of FCA Area Director Chris Kaiser, who has served on staff in the Tulsa area since 1992. Today, Kaiser remains highly encouraged by the Lord’s work in the former Jenks High School star’s life.
“I am so proud of where God has taken Brian Presley,” Kaiser said. “Working with Brian as a high school student was a great experience and this all brings back some great ministry memories for me. Brian was what I rate as the FCA ‘total package’ when it comes to student-leaders. He was a great leader among his peers at Jenks, where he was the starting quarterback on a phenomenal state championship team as well as an exceptional student in the classroom and an influential witness for Christ. It’s wonderful to see how the Lord has directed Brian in his career in Hollywood, and I am excited to see how God will use him for the Kingdom through this movie and his efforts as an actor.”
Featuring an all-star cast including Presley, Kurt Russell, Melanie Lynskey, Marc Blucas and Academy Award-winner Christine Lahti, Touchback is set to hit theaters on April 13. Check your local listings for showtimes and availability.
And, like Presley, if you want to reach others for Christ through FCA by contributing financially or volunteering, contact your local staff or visit fca.org.
But God knew exactly what He was doing.
Around that time was when I received a new screenplay titled Touchback. It was a story about a glorified football hero whose dreams hadn’t turned out the way he’d planned. Twenty years after high school, he found himself as a soybean farmer with a looming foreclosure. Much like I did, he hid his troubles from his wife and tried to beat them alone. One bad thing led to another, and he eventually felt like there was no hope and tried to take his own life.
To me, the message God was sending through the screenplay was clear: “You can’t conquer life without Jesus!” Touchback illustrated the exact same themes of the life I was living. Finally, I knew what I needed to do.
On the verge of losing everything—my life and my family—I went to my knees and begged God for mercy and healing. It broke my heart to realize that I had neglected my wife, our son and our new daughter—the people who loved me more than anything in the world. I poured out my heart to her and began to overflow with emotions that had been stored away for more than five years.
Mentally and physically, I was not in a healthy place. The devil had truly done a number on me. But I knew that the screenplay for Touchback was a gift and message from God. Only He could rescue me. And, thankfully, even though I’d gotten lost and dramatically strayed from Him, He had remained beside me the whole time.
The road to recovery hasn’t been easy or quick, but I’m praising God for His restoration. Over the last two years, I have slowly chipped away at the metal chains around my heart and re-established my relationship with God. Through it all, my wife has stood by me, the epitome of a guardian angel. Slowly, we have—together—begun climbing out of the hole, but only with Jesus pulling the rope.
In God’s grace, we were able to get Touchback made into a film, and I was blessed to play the main character with whom I so greatly identified. I won’t spoil it for you, but the film is inspired by one of my favorite films, It’s a Wonderful Life and is set in the context of Friday-night football—a world with which I am very familiar!
While everyone in Hollywood told me I was wasting my time in trying to get this film made, I knew it was from God and that it could be a vehicle through which I could share my testimony. In His timing, God brought all the right people into my path to ensure that it got made, including Kurt Russell, which was truly amazing. The movie is hitting theaters this spring, and I can hardly wait. God is amazing, and all the glory goes to Him!
With the release of Touchback I am seizing every opportunity to share what I’ve learned: that God’s grace and forgiveness are real and deep, and that His love is amazing! He doesn’t care if we are at the bottom of the ocean; there’s no hole so deep He can’t bring us out. In fact, He can turn every experience into the greatest blessing of our lives.I know because I am living proof.
By His Grace,
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Courtesy of Brian Presley; Dave Presley; Roberson Public Relations; Freedom Films LLC