Twenty-six year old Alejandro Villanueva came to the NFL via an unlikely and unusually long, path. After graduating from West Point in 2009, the 6'9", 338-pound captain of the Army Black Knights football team who played on both sides of the ball during his college career was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Infantry. Villanueva deployed three times to Afghanistan as an officer and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with V (for valor) device after pulling wounded soldiers to safety while they were under enemy fire.
Signed and cut by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, Villaneuva has found a home with the Steelers, having spent the last year on the practice squad. Ramon Foster has high praise for the aspiring lineman saying-- per TimesOnline.com-- "He's grown in a major, major way. He's a guy that has transformed his body, transformed his mind to where he can compete at this level."
Commenting on the uncertainty he is facing in the NFL, Villanueva told ESPN in 2014, "When you're deployed, you don't know what can happen, but you know exactly what can happen. You know you can go on a mission and not come back. You know you can go on a mission and come back in half. You know the things that can happen. Now, I don't even know what can happen."
Villanueva has proven his flexibility over the years, having been placed in multiple positions in college and with NFL teams. He's done everything from wide receiver to defensive end. Now he finds himself in good hands with mentor Ramon Foster and experienced coach Mike Munchak along the Steelers offensive line.
Villanueva will be battling the likes of Mike Adams and company to find a spot somewhere on the Steelers' 53-man roster, but with the entire offensive line for the team returning, one has to wonder whether there will be a position for him at either left or right tackle. Villanueva's story is compelling, but won't be complete until he steps on the field in training camp and proves his worth when it matters the most.