Is there a more well-liked player in the NFL than Alejandro Villanueva? At least among offensive linemen, there certainly isn’t. The former Army Ranger was inadvertently caught in the national spotlight this past September and the immediate resulted in him briefly becoming something of a household name.
Need an example of this? He was the only offensive lineman in the NFL among the top 50 in player merchandise sales for 2017. And the vast majority of those sales came just in the fourth quarter of the year. It even helped vault him into the Pro Bowl, though the Pittsburgh Steelers’ success—and his own performance of course—also helped get him there.
He is an easy player to root for. When you listen to him talk, he is clearly among the most thoughtful and articulate interviews in the game, no matter the subject (which often strays far away from football). He brings with him a unique perspective in the league thanks to his background.
Villanueva’s NFL career is an improbability to say the least. He turned 26 as a first-year player after originally trying to enter the league as an undrafted free agent out of Army in 2010. He tried and failed multiple times to make an NFL roster as a tight end or a defensive lineman, and served active tours of duty in between when those efforts failed.
But most endearing has been his charitable work, of which we have seen (and published) a number of stories over the course of the past couple of years. He has put his new contract that he signed last season to good use in aiding others, and has also turned his newfound ‘celebrity’ into charity as well.
According to USA Today, Villanueva is donating the money from the royalty check he received from his merchandising sales a year ago to local charities not just in Pittsburgh, but in the cities of the Steelers’ AFC North rivals as well: Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. This information was provided by those close to Villanueva, who told the paper anonymously, since he did not want to publicize the act.
Among the charities to receive his aid is the one run by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, whom Villanueva calls a friend. Checks were given out to aid Baltimore officers and first responders. He sent a check to the Cleveland Browns for their charitable work and wished them well in all but two games in 2018.
The left tackle is entering his fourth season with the Steelers. He was originally signed to the team’s practice squad in 2014 after he faced them in the preseason while with the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end. They converted him to offensive tackle, where he spent some time playing in college.
He made the roster the following year as the swing tackle but ended up starting most of the season due to a torn ACL suffered by Kelvin Beachum, and he has hardly missed a snap since.