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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

It would be inaccurate to say Brandon Hughes has left football in the rear view mirror. Occasionally you look into a rear view mirror.

Hughes has had no such inkling since his five-year National Football League career ended. Asked if he missed the game in which he starred at Bloomington High School and Oregon State on his way to the NFL, Hughes replied, "I miss absolutely none of it."

For one, rear view mirrors aren't Hughes' thing.

"When I'm done with something, I don't really look back," he said.

Two, Hughes is proud of what he put into football.

"I started playing when I was seven," he said. "I felt I did everything I wanted to do in it ... other than getting an interception in the NFL. That would have been nice. But I played my tail off in high school and in college and in the league."

Three, Hughes has too much to look forward to each day. He has a wife and two young children he adores and a growing business that fulfills him.

It's a good life, and while football helped lead to it — particularly the business — he no longer is consumed by the game.

Hughes, 33, spent time with four NFL teams as a defensive back, the longest stint coming from 2010 to 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Now, he and his family live in Langhorne, Pa., near Philadelphia and he owns a gym called the Fuel House Fitness Center in nearby Levittown, Pa.

It isn't filled with elite athletes, but rather folks like you and me. Or, perhaps, you and your neighbor.

A certified personal trainer, Hughes did train recent Princeton grad Jesper Horsted, a tight end trying to make the Chicago Bears roster.

"If he can keep his tail healthy, he'll make that team," Hughes said. "That's as elite as I get."

Mostly, Hughes and his staff work with teachers, lawyers, construction workers ... anyone this side of sportswriters.

"I get more satisfaction out of seeing everyday people push their limit," Hughes said. "The entire philosophy at Fuel House is we want you to be the best person you can be. We're trying to attack it from a strength and conditioning standpoint.

"We don't care about how much you can lift. We want you to have fun and do what you can do. If we can help you feel like an athlete, we've done our job."

Fuel House has 112 members, up significantly from 33 when it opened nearly four years ago. Early on, Hughes trained people in a park. After getting married and moving out of Philadelphia, he trained people at his house.

"I started creating the Fuel House program in my basement," he said.

Soon after, he decided to open his own gym. 

"My wife (Thelma) was like, 'You're crazy,'" Hughes said. "Other people said, 'You're crazy.' But anybody who ever met me would tell you I'm a little crazy at times."

The impetus to become a personal trainer came during Hughes' rookie year in the NFL. While on injured reserve with the San Diego Chargers, he worked every day under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Vernon Stephens.

"We just got after it," Hughes said. "I kind of fell in love with it. From that year on, I would tell my teammates, 'I'm going to open a gym when I'm done.'"

Hughes was "done" in 2014 after being released by the Cleveland Browns. Injuries played a role in limiting his career, and for a while after leaving the game, he felt "residuals."

"I stopped lifting and I was walking around in severe pain," he said. "My knees were hurting, my back was hurting. I realized that I have to keep myself physically in shape. So I started lifting again."

The "residuals" subsided and Hughes prides himself on being in top shape. It's good for business and his long-term health.

It helps him keep up with Brandon, Jr., who is almost 4, and daughter Noelle, who is a year and eight months. 

Hughes said the family hopes to make a visit soon to Bloomington to see his mother, Ceneta Brooks. If so, he likely would look up Ted Schmitz as well.

A longtime football coach, Schmitz was a driver education teacher at BHS when Hughes was there. They connected immediately and remain close.

"He's the one person who has been there every step of the way," Hughes said. "Without him, I never would have gone to college. I was fortunate enough to be put in a driver education car with Coach Schmitz and he's been nothing but a father figure.

"When I was playing, when I was not playing, when I was going through some personal things, he was always there. It was not just about football for him. Our relationship has always been about each other."

Hughes also credited Dodie Dunson Sr. and Junior Hosea for their influence on his life, saying all were "like father figures."

"Bloomington has a community of good people," he said.

Hughes is proud to call it his hometown.

Puff out your chest, Bloomington. You can be proud of him as well.

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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