A Different Duck

(photos courtesy Evan Pinkus/NY Giants)

With his position rapidly becoming obsolete in the NFL, perhaps it’s fitting that New York Giants fullback Madison Hedgecock has a hobby that’s also all but unknown in contemporary American society.

On his days off, Hedgecock gets into his car and drives until he chances on a farming community. Then he slows his car to a crawl hoping he’ll spot someone to talk with. If that fails, even though he admits it’s a little awkward at first, Hedgecock will knock on doors and introduce himself.

He acknowledged that farming can be no more than a hobby for him right now but that doesn’t stop Hedgecock from yearning for a connection to the earth and to people with whom he feels a kinship.

Born on his family’s farm in North Carolina, Hedgecocks have tilled the soil since their arrival in the colonies in the 1670s, first where their ship weighed anchor in Baltimore, Md., but since the early 1700s in a lush tobacco farming community in Wallburg, outside Winston-Salem.

As a child and young man, Hedgecock knew that farming was in his blood but he also learned that he loved football and was good at it. And a new passion was born: to one day play in the NFL.

This second hunger was to take him far from his roots. Originally a seventh-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2005, Hedgecock quickly discovered that he had little in common with most of his teammates, many of whom came from urban environments.

“Some guys live in a hotel with their families back home,” Hedgecock said. “And some guys like golf so they have their little clique and they do their thing…. [They] come together, do their work and then go home.”

Hedgecock said that when he did make a friend on the team, it was only to see him cut.

“So then you wait for the next one to come in and maybe you can be friends,” Hedgecock said, shaking his head sadly. “There’s some loneliness involved for me.”

“He’s a strange bird,” former teammate Amani Toomer agreed. “I like him and think he’s very smart but he just kind of keeps to himself. He’s kind of a loner, a country kid and I don’t think a city environment is a comfortable place for him.”

With no friends and too much free time in the off-season, Hedgecock felt the need to get outdoors and to search out an agricultural area with the hope that he could connect with people who would understand him and welcome him into their fellowship. So one day Hedgecock got into his car and began his journey to find a friend.

He pulled into a farm not too far from St. Louis because he saw an old man walking toward his house. Hedgecock hurriedly stopped the car and jumped out. He introduced himself, saying that he was with the Rams, and after they talked for a while the farmer invited him into his home where they had a long mutually satisfying conversation.

Hedgecock visited his new friend every day off and the farmer introduced Hedgecock to his neighbors until eventually his friends included the entire community.

“Somebody else wouldn’t understand because they don’t have my background,” Hedgecock explained. “I find it warming because I can talk to them, I speak their lingo. Farming isn’t just a livelihood, it’s a way of life and farmers will take you in like you’re family.”

Because his elderly friend needed help with his farm, Hedgecock gradually began to assume some of the chores involved in maintaining a working farm.

‘I knew where there were silos there would be farms so I got off the freeway real quick. I drove around the valley looking at how they farmed.’

He still vividly remembers the fall day in 2007 when he was disking a field on his friend’s John Deere tractor, his dog Suzie at his side. It was a warm sunny day and Hedgecock was doing what he loved until his cell phone rang.

His caller told him to report to the stadium and bring his playbook.

“That’s when I was told the Rams cut me,” Hedgecock remembered. “Me and my dog were so mad. We were having fun on my day off and I had to turn the tractor around and go back to the stadium.”

Fortunately, he was claimed off waivers by the Giants so he wasn’t out of work long. But Hedgecock still harbors a grudge that the Rams cut him on a day when he was enjoying himself.

Once he settled into his new environment and had learned the Giants playbook, Hedgecock became restless. So once again he got into his car and began to drive but this time, after driving for more than an hour, he still found himself on a freeway.

Disappointed, he gave up for the day and returned to his apartment. But the following week he started out again, this time toward Pennsylvania, and eventually Hedgecock came to a small valley where he saw silos in the distance.

“I knew where there were silos there would be farms so I got off the freeway real quick,” Hedgecock said. “I drove around the valley looking at how they farmed.”

Soon he saw a dairy so he stopped his car and began to talk with some of the men working outside. The dairymen welcomed Hedgecock and told him to return anytime and gradually he met that entire community also.

Hedgecock maintained his old relationships while adding to his new circle of friends and he feels that this will sustain him until his football career comes to an end.

Then he’ll begin the search for his own farm to work.

“I’ll have to do a lot of research,” Hedgecock explained. “Where my parents live is heavily populated and I could buy land in New Jersey as cheaply as I could buy it there. My mom and dad want me to come home but I’ll be open-minded and go where I can find some good farmland. I need someplace where I can spread out.”

Lured by the concept of wide-open spaces, Hedgecock thinks he might head west to find his farm and, though he realizes farming isn’t a life that would appeal to many, he also knows that it suits him.

“I guess I’m just a different kind of duck that way,” Hedgecock admitted, shrugging.