Alejandro Villanueva is different than most football players. He played college football for United States Military Academy, West Point, then went off to serve in Afghanistan for four years, and returned back to the NFL to play professional football.
The beginning of Villanueva’s competitive football career truly began to spark attention when he attended West Point — where he would be an Army Black Knight.
College football was quite interesting for Villanueva. He played three different positions: Defensive end, offensive tackle, and wide receiver (in that order too). Perhaps the most dramatic change in his college career was his weight. Despite being recruited as a tight end, he started out his freshman year as defensive end. Throughout his sophomore and junior year, he was a 310 pound offensive lineman — but his coaches had him change positions once again during his senior year when he became a wide receiver. He was originally listed as 6’10” and weighed 290 lbs. after losing 20 pounds (later on the Philadelphia eagles would mark him down at 6’9″). But regardless, that’s no small receiver!
After he finished his college career in 2010, Villanueva had an opportunity to tryout for the Cincinnati Bengals. But he felt a calling to do something different than what most players would have done by still keeping the military as his primary focus. Because of the regulations that the Academy had, he could not visit Cincinnati as much as he wanted — which resulted in himself going undrafted. Here’s what he said about his mindset coming out of college:
“As soon as I graduated, especially with all my classmates at West Point who were all going to serve, my mind and my heart were going to Afghanistan. That’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to serve, I wanted to see combat. I was actually trying to get as many deployments as I could, and see it with different units. That’s where my mind and my heart was.”
Alejandro became a highly decorated member of the military. The Army Times said, in reference to Villanueva (Trip Live):
“Villanueva’s first deployment came as a rifle platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division. He was there for a year, earning a Bronze Star with ‘V’ for valor after advancing under enemy fire to reach wounded soldiers. … He also holds a Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, a Parachutist Badge, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge, along with other honors.”
After reading this one could only realize why he was voted team captain in college and was spotted with interest by many professional teams; not just because of his athleticism, but also because of his leadership ability by coming out clutch in high-pressure moments.
After being deployed for a couple of years, Villanueva received another tryout offer from the Chicago Bears to play tight end. He worked out for them, but sadly was not signed.
Alejandro went off and served for a couple of more years and came back to the U.S. Knowing that it had been four years since the last time he played, he needed to train so he went to Savannah State College to workout and get back in football shape.
After going to some NFL tryouts, the Philadelphia Eagles spotted him and signed him to an undisclosed contract as a defensive end. Unfortunately, on August 23 of that year that he would be waived from the team during the NFL preseason.
Coincidentally two days earlier Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had seen Villanueva practicing and was incredibly impressed with his athleticism and height. Eight days after the military veteran and NFL free agent was let go from the Eagles, he was officially signed to the Steelers practice squad.
Villanueva has stayed with the Steelers ever since, having quite the NFL career and has gained more weight, currently weighing 320 pounds. In the past five years, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice and even scored a touchdown in last season!
Alejandro Villanueva has expressed such valiance in his career. His time in the U.S. Army shows how great he is at being a leader — which can only help him in football and on the offensive line (where as one of my old football coaches used to put it, “the battle in the trenches,” which is kind of ironic because Alejandro literally fought in the trenches in the military).
In this month of November, the NFL “Salute to Service” month, it is amazing to look over the story of Alejandro Villanueva, who is undoubtedly one of the most adaptable and courageous athletes of all time: Going from tight end, to defensive lineman, then to offensive tackle, then to the military, then back to tight end, to the military a second time, switching again to defensive end, and finally starting his time with the Steelers as an offensive tackle once more…
De Jeffrey Beall – Trabajo propio, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46558835