Keith Fitzhugh is a conductor trainee on Norfolk Southern’s Atlanta North District.
He could be playing football with the New York Jets.
If you think trading a National Football League playbook for an operating employee’s rulebook is something akin to carrying the ball toward your own goal line, think again.
The 24-year-old Fitzhugh — who has made application for UTU membership when he completes his probationary period in January — knows the value of steady work and regular paychecks in an economy thrown for a loss. “You can have a fine living working for the railroad,” Fitzhugh said.
Cut by the Jets pre-season, Fitzhugh responded to an early December invitation to return as a defensive back with a polite, “thanks, but no thanks.”
Fitzhugh began conductor training with NS in September, established seniority in November, and looks forward to membership in UTU Local 511 in Atlanta. He was raised in nearby Hampton, Ga.
“For me, having job security is important,” said Fitzhugh, who is helping to support his disabled father, a former truck driver. “I was released three times [twice by the Jets, once by the Baltimore Ravens]. There is no job security [in the National Football League]. Why risk losing a good job with Norfolk Southern? I have buddies with two degrees who can’t find a job.
“Working for Norfolk Southern is one of the best prestigious jobs you can have,” Fitzhugh said. “I don’t want to give up what I have now, go back to playing football a couple of weeks and then be released again. I have to look out for what’s best for me and my family.”
“To sacrifice what he did for his family is the most unselfish thing I’ve heard by a player in sports,” Fitzhugh’s agent told the Associated Press.
“I think riding on a locomotive is one of the coolest things,” Fitzhugh said. “I talked with my parents about it. They have always thought highly of Norfolk Southern, where it’s safety first.”
Fitzhugh, a standout safety at Mississippi State University, was signed by the Jets in 2009. He was named by USA Today as one of the top 200 college football players in the nation, and played as a senior in the East-West Shrine Bowl. At Mississippi State, he earned a degree in communications, with a minor in marketing.