By Brad Locke
Football gave Heath Hutchins a fine career during his high school and college days. Last year it gave him something else, something quite unexpected.
“Serendipity” is the word he uses to explain how tutoring a high school kicker led to a career as a fashion model for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch. It’s a job that’s taken Hutchins around the globe in a few months’ time, places like Amsterdam, England, Germany, Mexico and Spain.
Those places are a long way from Saltillo, where Hutchins starred for the high school football team as a punter. He went on to play for Itawamba Community College and then Mississippi State.
After failing to catch on in the NFL, Hutchins was trying to find some direction. He did some work as a personal trainer and had just caught on with a car dealership when fate intervened in the form of Hunter Bigham.
Bigham’s son, Reed, kicks and punts for Tupelo High’s varsity squad. Wanting to help his son improve as a player, Bigham asked Hutchins to tutor Reed.
Bigham has done some modeling for the past eight years or so. When a photographer friend, Cory Steirley, flew in to update his portfolio, he told Bigham to find someone else for him to take pictures of while he was in town.
Bigham asked Hutchins, who was more than glad to help.
“He came over to the house one afternoon, and Cory shot him, and it was pretty obvious from the very first flash of the strobe light that he had a natural affinity for this,” Bigham said. “When the first photos came through, we were like, dude, you have got to take these to somebody.”
Hutchins admitted the most he’d hoped to get from the photo shoot was “a cool Facebook picture and maybe get some chicks to talk to me.” He got that, and more.
After holding on to the pictures for a few weeks, Hutchins jumped on Google on a Wednesday last October and typed in “top 10 modeling agencies.” He submitted his photos, and the next day he received contracts. By the next Monday, he was in Mexico for his first shoot, for Fuller Cosmetics.
Angie Hutchins was understandably skeptical of her son’s new job. She sensed a lack of direction in his life.
“I told him then, don’t you want to get a real job? It’s not that it’s not a real job, it’s that it’s one of those jobs you never know about,” Angie Hutchins said. “And I never dreamed six months ago it would’ve taken him all the places that it’s taken him so far.”
This was not the life Hutchins had in mind. He knew little to nothing about the modeling industry. In fact, he wasn’t even familiar with the movie that spoofed it, “Zoolander,” a 2001 comedy starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
So he didn’t get all the “blue steel” references friends made. He has since watched the movie, and he’s learned quite a bit about this new world he was thrust into.
The schedule can be exhausting: pre-dawn and red-eye flights to and from far-flung – and exotic – locales, for days on end. There’s little time for rest, and Hutchins has found it challenging to keep up an exercise regimen.
But he tries not to complain too much.
“I’ll admit, most other guy models I meet are a lot different than me,” he said. “The word, I guess, is soft. Like, wake up. They’ve never been in the real world.”
Hutchins is used to early mornings. He had plenty of them at MSU, and he had strength coach Matt Balis wearing him out during offseason workouts.
Although a punter, Hutchins has always looked like a linebacker. Not so much now. When he started modeling last year, he weighed 220 pounds; now he’s down to about 180.
On that first job in Mexico, when he was still big, the photographer asked Hutchins to bring his arm up to his face. The sleeve of his shirt ripped.
By February he was small enough to fit into most anything, and that’s when the jobs really started to roll in. His most recent big job was with Ralph Lauren, for its spring 2014 line.
Hutchins said the male modeling world is a small one, and that most of his colleagues are European. At 24 years old, he got a relatively late start in the industry, but things have taken off quickly.
He lives in New York and has a girlfriend who also models. His mom has overcome her reservations about this career, and she isn’t surprised by how well Heath is doing.
“Honestly, knowing Heath like I know him, he always takes the bull by the horns to show people – anybody that was skeptical, including myself – he’s got one of those (attitudes of), I’m going to do it and show you,” Angie Hutchins said.
Bigham sees a big future for Hutchins.
“You haven’t seen the beginning of what he’ll be able to do,” Bigham said. “He’s world-class, man, I’m telling you.”
Hutchins tried to catch on with the New York Jets after college, but it didn’t work out. His playing days are over, and he misses football.
But football led him to this, and he’s occasionally reminded of that. He’s had photo shoots that involved him holding a football, and one session involved him holding a bulldog.
Last month, as MSU was grinding through preseason camp, Hutchins did a shoot for Target. He and another model were sporting athletic apparel, and they were on a football field.
“They had no idea what the hell anything looked like, so I was setting up the cones and doing everything, setting up the tire drills and the ladder,” Hutchins said. “They’re like, oh my God, you’re so good at this.”
Target booked him for another shoot the next week.
While it’s nice to be plucked up by a company like Ralph Lauren, Hutchins said it’s the steady jobs with companies like Target and Amazon that keep the money coming in consistently. It’s what could keep him in the industry for years to come.
“What may shock people later is how much more he will do. He’s just getting started,” Bigham said.
Angie Hutchins’ favorite pictures of Heath are when he’s holding a football. It reminds her of who he is, where he came from and how he got to the place he is now.
“Even though he’s on the journey to different endeavors,” she said, “that’s still how I see Heath, because he’s always had a ball in his hand.”
Heath Hutchins takes a philosophical view of this unexpected turn in his life.
“It’s more like serendipity, I guess is the word,” he said. “Everything that’s happened, I’ve had to be ready for it, but I’ve just been ready at the right time and in the right place and with the right people, and it turned out right. Had I not taken the path that I did, I don’t know if I’d be here right now.”