As a wide receiver in the NFL, Nathaniel I. “Nate” Hughes II knew it would take years to master his craft and compete with the best.
He also knew that if he made the right moves, kept his shoulders squared and his mind focused on his route, he would reach his ultimate goal: medical school.
To Hughes, who spent years wearing, among other colors, the teal and gold of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Honolulu blue of the Detroit Lions, the shade that matters most is the white of his coat, the one he donned last August as a member of the medical school class of 2019.
“As an NFL player, he didn't let the limelight get him off track, and I find that extraordinary,” said Dr. Claude Brunson, professor of anesthesiology, senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs and a member of the admissions committee that considered Hughes' medical school application.
“The committee knew he would have a lot of experience and maturity to offer,” said Brunson, who has helped vet applicants for about six years. “There was not much doubt that he would be a good addition to the class and a very fine physician.
“For my term, he's the first NFL player in medical school here that I'm aware of. We always look for a student who will add something different to the mix, and certainly he will do that.”
Named as one of the Top 50 Greatest Football Players at his alma mater, Alcorn State University, in 2014, Hughes didn't grasp the scope of his potential until he was a senior in college.
“I was headed to the offensive coordinator's office one day,” he said, “when two NFL scouts walked out. I asked the coach who those guys were there for. He said, 'They were here for you.'”
Various sources, including the NFL, report that only 1.6 percent of college football players make it to the pros. In in the end, Hughes was not drafted. But after impressing some teams during tryouts at a rookie mini-camp, he was tempted with a free-agent contract from the Cleveland Browns.
He succumbed. “But I told my daddy it didn't matter how much money I made, I still wanted to go to medical school,” Hughes said.