On The Right Track
Man turns down call to play for New York jets to keep steady railroad job.
With injuries decimating the team, the New York Jets needed help at the safety position, somebody who knew the drill and was ready to play.
That's when 24 year-old Keith Fitzhugh in Hampton, Georgia got the call of his dreams.
"It was so quick how the phone call went," explained Fitzhugh, as he recounted his conversation with the Jets. "'We're going to sign you. Get ready to fly up.'"
For Fitzhugh, a journeyman free-agent who got cut by the Jets earlier this year, the offer was the culmination of a lifetime of hard work as an athlete.
It was also an offer he would have to politely decline.
"This would have been my fourth time with them, and Rex Ryan knows that I have a good relationship with them," said Fitzhugh. "I just have to do what's best for me and my family and just stay working for Norfolk Southern. That's the best fit for me right now."
For Fitzhugh the security of his conductor's job at Norfolk Southern was safer than the uncertainty of his dream job with the Jets.
That's because his dad, Keith Sr., is disabled; and he wasn't about to leave his mom with the burden of making ends meet alone.
"Oh, it says a lot," smiled his mother, Meltonia Fitzhugh. "He loves his family. We are a small family. He loves his grandmother, his aunts and uncles. If you noticed, he'll talk about them. He'll call them all the time. We are a very close family."
Even the Jets coach had to admire his loyalty to family.
"That's one of the reasons why we wanted that kid," said Jets Coach Rex Ryan. "He's a tough guy, a guy with a lot of character. Really, just an outstanding young man."
Since he was a kid, Fitzhugh was fascinated by trains.
He even had a window-rattling train horn installed on his car when he was in college.
"Just being able to ride on them," he laughed. "Every kid just likes to hear the horn and how loud it is. Just being able to ride and be rocking, going forty or fifty miles an hour. It's just so exciting to even be able to do."
Still, turning down a shot in the NFL is tough.
So tough, he can't watch too many games without getting heartsick for the action he so desperately wanted to be a part of.
But getting cut from a team when there's little difference between you and the other hopefuls is tough too.
And when that happened, his family was all he had to fall back on to piece his shattered spirit back together.
"During the down time nobody was there for me," he recalled. "Just being released from a team, the only people there for me was my mom and dad, my grandmother, aunties. It's just family. They were there for me."
And that's why now, he plans to be there for them.