Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Keith Fitzhugh, a former New York Jets practice squad player, has been working hard the past few months, and this week the Jets came calling to give him a lucky break, offering the opportunity of a lifetime. The Gang Green wanted him back—not on the practice squad, but as a member of the 53-man roster—to help bolster their depleted secondary unit.
Fitzhugh, an undrafted free agent safety out of Mississippi State in 2009, is familiar with the Jets system through his experience as a member of their practice squad last season. But the 24-year-old has found new work—not in the NFL, but as a railroad conductor just outside Atlanta.
Swapping trains for Jets—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the Super Bowl [yes, despite their devastating loss to the Pats, the Jets are still Super Bowl contenders]—is a no-brainer, right?
Well, as two-time Super-Bowl winning safety Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers told us this past summer, “There’s something deeper than just football, there’s something deeper than what you experience superficially.” And for Fitzhugh, that higher calling led him to choose trains over the Jets.
You see, the Hampton, Ga., native returned home to help support his family. His father is disabled and cannot work, while his mother works days and nights to help make ends meet. These days, the former college standout and Jets squad member spends his days in steady work at the rail yards, and his nights at home with mom and dad.
Wrap your mind around these figures: the NFL minimum salary is $325,000, or approximately $19,000 a week. The starting salary for a railroad conductor at Fitzhugh’s place of employment, Norfolk Southern, is around $40,000 per year, according to PayScale.com. Quick math shows that with four weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, Fitzhugh could have earned nearly twice as much as his current annual salary.
So what gives? Fitzhugh says, “I know the Jets have a great opportunity of making the Super Bowl, and that’s one dream that every child has, is to play sports and make it to the Super Bowl. But there’s a time when you have to think, ‘Hey, you’ve only got one mom and dad.’ They won’t be here forever, and while they’re here, you’ve got to cherish that time.”
Let this story be a lesson for all you high school athletes who have aspirations of going pro. Plainly stated, the odds are stacked against you. So think of a college scholarship as your golden ticket to success. Fitzhugh made the most of his opportunities, including earning a college degree, and while his earnings may be meager compared to NFL riches, he has set himself up for a bright future.
As Doug Farrar of Yahoo!Sports writes, “Fitzhugh is deferring his NFL dreams for all the right reasons, and that’s the kind of guy whose dreams should come true down the road.”
We couldn’t agree more.