I think I can say with great confidence that there is no player I have written more ‘non-football’ articles about since I began writing here than Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. The former Army Ranger has devoted quite a bit of his free time to giving back in a variety of ways that I and the rest of us have tried to chronicle over the years.
It’s one of the reasons that he is perennially one of the most beloved members of the Steelers, and I’m guessing he probably still has the best-selling jersey among offensive linemen. He even cracked the top 50 in jersey sales in 2017, the only offensive lineman to do so.
His most recent personal project was to work with the USAA in their Salute to Service program, in which he participated in their first ever NFL Boot Camp to be held on a military base outside of the United States, a fact of which Villanueva was proud, and in fact it was the site of his arrival as he began his military career in Germany.
“As soon as I landed in Germany, it felt like it was home”, he told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, with whom he spoke over the phone about his experience. He said that the last time he was at that particular base was “with my dad getting my physical for the U.S. military”.
While there, Fowler writes that the lineman helped put the enlisted members through the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, three-cone shuttle, and other drills that are commonly looked at during the pre-draft process. He also bragged about personally throwing a football 45 yards. Perhaps he can join Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey’s training camp competition in which they see who can hit the upright first, though Roethlisberger throws from further back.
The Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp gives enlisted members of the military an opportunity to go through training as an NFL player would. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are looking to turn service members into NFL players, but it is a way to give back to the military while growing the game at the same time.
To the latter end, Villanueva observed during his time in Germany that “there’s a huge, massive following” and that he has “seen some Terrible Towels around here”. I’m sure we’ve also seen pictures of Terrible Towels from all around the world, including the Great Wall of China and on the peaks of mountains. Even on the International Space Station.
He isn’t the only member of the Steelers getting involved in the game overseas, though. As I’ve also recently written about, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was named as one of the league’s ambassadors for a new initiative based in London, an NFL Academy where college-bound players will get the opportunity to train and possibly receive a scholarship to an NCAA school.