From the NFL to doctor of medicine, alumnus Nate Hughes talks sports, education and living two childhood dreams

A former standout Alcorn State University football star that successfully transitioned to the medical field is enjoying the fruits of his labor with his most recent accomplishment.

Nate Hughes, who earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Alcorn in 2008, recently received a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson, Mississippi. Over the next two years, Hughes will participate in a residency that will train him to become an anesthesiologist. He will spend the first year of his training at UMMC before leaving for Rutgers University in New Jersey to complete his second year.

Studying medicine and becoming an athlete has always been at the forefront of Huges' life. Growing up, and witnessing the love that his parents had for both fields, inspired him to work on both crafts and achieve success in both arenas.

"I've always been attracted to the medical field, even when I was just a child," said Hughes, a Macon, Mississippi native. "I grew up in a household where my mom was into sports and education, and my dad was into the medical field. So, I had the best of both worlds in my home."

Throughout his athletic days as a football player and track & field runner, Hughes made frequent trips to the hospital to repair injuries he suffered during various competitions. Despite the pain, those trips proved to be beneficial in furthering his fascination with the medical field.

"I had multiple surgeries. I tore a labrum in both of my arms, dislocated my ankle, and had a few more small procedures. Undergoing those surgeries and being around doctors furthered my passion for the medical field even more."

Being in medical school presents challenges that every student must find the will to conquer. The most pressing hurdle that Hughes had to overcome was being away from his family for extended periods.

"The biggest challenge was being separated from my family, who lives in Mobile, Alabama. I would see them once every two to three weeks. I missed out on a lot of my children's milestones. That, including long hours of studying, was hard at times. The environment that medical school provides can be mentally taxing."

Before Hughes focused solely on the medical field, he had a career as a football player. After an exceptional stint as the Braves' leading receiver, Hughes went on to the NFL where he played with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Detroit Lions from 2008 to 2012. He recounts his experience as one that was demanding, but favorable to his future in terms of networking and enhancing his work ethic.

"It was different from my college experience because it felt more like a job. As an undrafted player who can be cut at any moment, you have to show up every day with your best because if you don't, it could be your last day on the team. It was a stressful environment at times, but I made lots of friends and got to know a lot of people in high places. So the league turned out to be good for me."

Hughes went into the NFL knowing what route he would take after his football career was over. He encourages other athletes to have plans they can pursue once their athletic careers come to an end.

"Having a plan after your athletic career is very important. You have to realize that football and other sports are tools to help jumpstart your life. It helps you to get the money you need to put yourself in a comfortable financial situation. It helps put you in particular circles that could lead to more exposure. That way, you can live comfortably while pursuing your post-athletic dreams."

The boy who used to have big dreams has grown into the man who brought those dreams into fruition with hard work and dedication. Hughes is thankful for the journey and is looking forward to the future.

"It's incredible. When you set your goals and work hard to achieve them, you don't realize how well you're doing. Accomplishing both goals has been a fun ride. It has been an awesome journey."