Sometimes you have to follow your heart!
Meet the man who left the NFL to become a train conductor, Black Enterprise reports.
Keith Fitzhugh always had dreams to play in the NFL and would let everyone know that one day, it was going to happen. Luckily for him, he had a knack for backing up his words with actions.
“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 followed through with both things, marrying Jessica just like he said he would when they were at Mississippi State, and qualifying for the 2009 NFL Draft. The one thing he didn’t take into consideration is that he might not be selected.
“That’s what I always dreamed to do. When my name wasn’t drafted, I was really hurt,” Fitzhugh explained.
Still he persisted, eventually securing a contract as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets that May. By August, they had waived him and he joined their practice squad in September. He then got an opportunity with the Baltimore Ravens, joining their active roster and even heading to playoffs but he didn’t get a chance to play any snaps.
By the next training camp in 2010, Fitzhugh was back with the Jets but was unable to lock in a spot on the team’s secondary roster. The team then decided to wave him again.
“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.
That was the moment Fitzhugh said he started to think about a plan B.
“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.
That’s when Fitzhugh got the idea to become a train conductor, another dream of his. He joined Norfolk Southern’s conductor program just as the 2010 NFL season opened.
“When I took that conductor job, I thought, ‘That’s life for me now. It’s Part 2,” said Fitzhugh.
But then something unexpected happened. After working an overnight shift, one day he got a call from the Jets giving him an opportunity to return as a replacement. It was a tough decision for him but after a lot of thought and a lot of tears, he declined their offer.
“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.
A decade later, he said he doesn’t regret his decision to turn down that final offer. His life looks different than he expected but he’s been really happy. Since he began as a train conductor, he’s received several promotions that have taken him all over the nation. In April 2021, he and his family relocated to Tampa for advancement opportunities with 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.
While he still wishes he could’ve lived out his NFL dreams, Fitzhugh said he knows he made the right decision. His son, Keith III, who is getting ready to start flag football with dreams of being drafted as well, is proof of that.
“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.
We’re wishing you all the best Keith!
Photo Courtesy of Keith Fitzhugh/Black Enterprise