The Pittsburgh Steelers first set their sights on Alejandro Villanueva during a preseason game in 2014, while he was standing on the opposite sideline as a defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles. His 6’9” stature was his prominent feature, but they saw the potential in him, and took him on as a conversion project.
Five years on, he is seemingly well on his way toward his second consecutive Pro Bowl, and this one may well be even more deserved based on his on-field work than was last year’s. That was after the veteran Army Ranger unwittingly become the face of a controversy between the NFL and the President of the United States, which greatly raised both his name recognition and his popularity, vaulting his jersey into the top 50 in sales—the only offensive lineman even close to the top 50.
While he has gradually mastered the game of football, this is merely the latest chapter in Villanueva’s life, and he tries to do his part in using his assets that he earns today to pay back what he was given in his previous chapter as a decorated member of the armed services.
His teammates have never taken it for granted to have a literal veteran with them in the locker room. Just ask David DeCastro, who talked to the team’s website for this Veterans Day about the impact that Villanueva has had on the team.
“Even before he played for us I had the ultimate respect for the military”, the All-Pro guard said of his linemate. “To have him, talk to him, and learn about his experience adds even more to that respect. It’s great to have him on the team”.
One thing that was immediately evident about Villanueva from his first interview with the team was that he was not only humble, but intelligent and insightful. He doesn’t necessarily like to offer public comments often, but when he does, you know that they are going to be measured and thoughtful, which has been appreciated by teammates and media alike.
Villanueva is just the latest veteran of the armed forces to play for the Steelers, of course, the most notable being Rocky Bleier, who partnered with Hall of Famer Franco Harris in the team’s backfield during their 1970s dynasty. Before him was Bill Dudley, and after, John Banaszak. And you can’t forget Andy Russell, either.
You can read all of their stories—and hear from all of them aside from Dudley—in Teresa Varley’s article posted on Sunday from the team’s website linked to above.
While he is not a stranger to a bare-chested, beer-guzzling time out at a local hockey game, I think that Villanueva’s presence in the locker room has been nothing but a blessing, something of a stabilizing and grounding forced among a group of people that can, frankly, get out of hand.