One would be hard-pressed to find a player in the NFL with a more compelling backstory than that of Pittsburgh Steelers third-year offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who moved into the starting lineup on a full-time basis last year.
A player of several positions while at Army, Villanueva served multiple tours of duty as a Ranger in decorated fashion in between attempts to make an NFL roster. His third time finally proved to be the charm, indirectly, when he signed as a defensive end with the Eagles in 2014, where the Steelers were able to get a look at him and sign him to their practice squad, converting him to offense, and the rest his history.
But history doesn’t always remain in the past, and when it comes to his brothers with whom he served, Villanueva does his part to attempt to pass along what he has gained through finding success in the NFL to his service brothers.
“It’s now habitual to see me eat breakfast before the game”, he recently told Adam Schefter while appearing on his podcast, Know Them from Adam. “Just always eating breakfast with one of my soldiers who’s now out of the military and living in one of those cities and drove, to see the game and spend some time meeting Coach Tomlin, the general manager, the Rooneys”.
It’s important for Villanueva to be able to do this small thing for those who served with him or were stationed with him. He is proud to be “able to say at least I’m keeping these people in mind, all the NFL attention that I could be getting right now is at least being shared with the real heroes, the guys who served with me and are getting no recognition for their service”.
It has become a regular part of his pre-game routine, for nearly every game, since he has been in Pittsburgh. “Most of the games in Pittsburgh, some of them people fly in”, he said, “to have the home experience of Heinz Field, which is phenomenal, but every single season we’ve played for the past two or three years has had a soldier that served with me or was stationed with me and can make the drive to experience the game”.
He also said that he would like to do more. “The more opportunities that I have, obviously the more people I can bring in”, he told Schefter. “I would love to bring in my interpreter to a game. I was able to bring in my company committee’s interpreter to a Cleveland Browns game” “I try to do it as much as I can”.
Signing a new long-term contract with the Steelers would certainly go a long way toward being able to do more for his fellow veterans. Whether or not that deal is going to be completed by the time the regular season starts remains to be seen, but I think it’s a very realistic possibility.