There are a lot of men who aspire to become professional football players, but have to take a different path for a variety of reasons. The Steelers starting left tackle at the end of last season Alejandro Villanueva began his career in the army.
While learning his trade, Villanueva played college football for the Army Black Knights at several positions. As the son of a naval officer, he grew up overseas where football is usually played with a round ball, so he wasn’t a big gridiron fan until he began playing at a Defense Department-run high school in Belgium.
When he arrived at the U.S. Military Academy, his fellow cadets brought him up to speed in a hurry – particularly on their great rivalry when playing Navy. “From the moment you show up at the academy, you hear ‘Beat Navy’ nonstop,” Villanueva told the Military Times.
Villanueva graduated in 2010 and left active service four years later after serving three tours of duty in Afghanistan while earning two Bronze Star Medals. Two of his tours were as a U.S. Ranger. His service record can be found here>>>.
Two years ago Villanueva decided to turn his dream of playing in the NFL into reality. While putting on weight to increase his bulk he attended a regional combine in suburban Atlanta. He obviously made an impression as he was invited to attend the NFL’s super regional combine in Detroit.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a rookie free agent contract in May 2014 and fortunately his team played the Steelers during preseason, because Mike Tomlin took notice of the player.
The Eagles envisioned the rookie as a 3-4 defensive end. It wasn’t the ideal situation for Villanueva as he tried to learn a position he had never played while attempting to make the move into civilian life. He still maintained responsibilities with the Rangers that required some commuting to Savannah.
In August, Villanueva was released by the Eagles and the Steelers signed him to their practice squad when he officially became a civilian. Tomlin told Villanueva he wanted to give him “football stability.” That meant an opportunity to learn his position and the NFL game while building his body with no expectations other than Villanueva would work hard and do his best.
“That was as good of a chance as I’d get,” Villanueva said. ” For that, I was extremely thankful.”
At the end of October, he made his first start for the Steelers in place of the injured Kelvin Beachum and then established himself as part of an offensive line that despite their injuries managed to provide the protection for Ben to make the playoffs.
The Steelers signed journeyman Ryan Harris during the offseason and Villanueva will have to compete with the veteran for a job at tackle.
“I look at myself as being part of the offensive line,” Villanueva told Steelers.Com. “My job right now is not the starting left tackle of the Steelers. My job is to compete to become one of the five starters for the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. It’s something I have to work really hard for. Nothing is going to be handed to me. There are great players here. I don’t know who the starting left tackle is. Nobody has been announced.”
Although Villanueva is not being overconfident, he made quite an impression last season and looks likely to extend his playing career with the Steelers.