According to Black Enterprise, this man left the NFL to work as a train conductor.
Keith Fitzhugh has long aspired to play in the NFL and would tell everyone that one day he will be able to do so. He was fortunate in that he had a fire for putting his thoughts into action.
“I was walking around campus and Keith stopped me and said, ‘You’re gonna be my wife.’ That’s what type of confidence he had. That was our first conversation,” his wife Jessica said.
Fitzhugh did both, marrying Jessica and qualifying for the 2009 NFL Draft, just as he promised while they were at Mississippi State. He didn’t think about the possibility that he wouldn’t be chosen.
“That’s what I always dreamed to do. When my name wasn’t drafted, I was really hurt,” Fitzhugh explained.
Despite this, he persevered and signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in May of that year. They released him in August and he joined their practice squad in September. After that, he got a chance to play with the Baltimore Ravens, joining their active roster and even making the playoffs, but he didn’t get to see the field.
Fitzhugh returned to the Jets the following training camp in 2010, but he was unable to secure a berth on the team’s supplementary squad. Afterwards, the team decided to give him a second chance to impress.
“He’s the perfect example of someone who had the talent but never really got a chance to show it,” said Doug Plank, former defensive back assistant coach for the Jets.
At that point, according to Fitzhugh, he began to consider a backup plan.
“I remember being in the house, being depressed, and my dad would pull me aside and say, ‘Son, you have to pick yourself up,” he recalled.
Fitzhugh’s goal of becoming a train conductor came to him at that point. Just as the 2010 NFL season began, he joined Norfolk Southern’s conductor program.
“When I took that conductor job, I thought, ‘That’s life for me now. It’s Part 2,” said Fitzhugh.
But then something happened that was unanticipated. He received a call from the Jets one day after serving an overnight shift, offering him the chance to return as a replacement. It was a difficult decision for him to make, but he decided to decline their offer after much thought and tears.
“I told them how my dad wasn’t doing so well, and I had a great opportunity as a train conductor, and I think it was best for me to spend time with my family and my dad and take this career path,” said Fitzhugh.
He remarked a decade later that he doesn’t regret turning down that final offer. He’s had a different life than he expected, but he’s been really content. He’s been promoted multiple times since he started as a train conductor, and he’s been all across the country since then. He and his family moved to Tampa in April 2021 in order to work for the Road and Rail Services.
“Now my son’s growing up, and it’s time to get a little grounded, and this is a great opportunity for us to get grounded here in Tampa,” he said.
Fitzhugh said he thinks he made the right decision despite his regrets over not being able to fulfill his NFL goals. Keith III, his son, is confirmation of this, as he prepares to play flag football and hopes to get drafted as well.
“He looks like he’s got a promising future, and I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure he grows up to be a good young man and that he has fun,” said Fitzhugh.