While he may be the most novice and one of the oldest players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line, nobody could say that there are more experienced in their livelihood than their left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, a decorated veteran of wars with the Army Rangers who just competed in his first Pro Bowl.
He has come a long way since Mike Tomlin spotted him on the Philadelphia Eagles’ sideline during a preseason game in 2014 and became intrigued about the possibilities. They committed a year to developing him on the practice squad, and that turned out to be time well-spent for both parties.
But it was a journey, and one that is not finished. And he had a great deal of help along the way. Villanueva exhaustively praises offensive line coach Mike Munchak at every opportunity, but he recently also talked about the impact that another lineman, David DeCastro, had on his development on the field as well as in forming the appropriate mindset for the game.
The three-year veteran said that DeCastro is the one who showed him “how to be a professional”, which is understandably something that he knew little about in the football world. While he played four seasons of college ball at Army, it came at a number of different positions.
He was not even on a 90-man roster before the 2014 season when the Eagles finally gave him a contract, having previously failed a couple of tryouts over the years, interspersed with active tours of duty. He was very much a football greenhorn when the Steelers signed him to their practice squad.
“I have a lot of respect for who he is as a person”, Villanueva said of his right guard. “I trust his judgement. I am fortunate to have him as a close friend”. While he was an undrafted free agent that took years to even make a roster, DeCastro was a Stanford graduate and first-round pick who was virtually a plug-and-play starter. Yet approaches his job with no sense of entitlement.
“From a professional standpoint the way he approaches the game, he is probably the most ambitious and goal-related player I have met” the left tackle told the team’s website. “He is somebody that doesn’t cut any corners. He is always focused on the task at hand. He has no priorities other than getting better. His humble approach to the game has rubbed off on me. For me to learn how to play from someone like David DeCastro is an honor and a privilege”.
It really doesn’t seem as though Villanueva enjoys anything more than the opportunity to talk up the people that he admires, does it? He has waxed poetic about the greatness of head coach Mike Tomlin before as well. But to be able to have that sort of relationship with a peer was important for him as he learned not just how to be a professional, but how to be a lineman.