Last month, Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva gave the commencement address at Saint Vincent College, doing his part to try to inspire a wave of graduates as they move on to the next phase of their lives. Villanueva recently found himself a graduate as well.
While many professional athletes at some point in their careers return to their alma mater to finish degrees that they started and abandoned after declaring for the draft, Villanueva is part of a rarer breed that took on a new task. He attended Carnegie Mellon for the past few years, and just came out with an MBA to show for it.
An Army graduate, Villanueva of course spent most of his young adult life serving in the armed forces, including active service in combat, during which he served with distinction and was rewarded for his heroism.
Following each tour of duty, he would return to the States to try out once again, most often at tight end, even though he had primarily played defensive end, then tackle, then wide receiver in college. He finally hooked on with the Philadelphia Eagles at defensive end in 2014. After he was released at the end of the preseason, the Steelers added him to their practice squad to develop as a tackle, and the rest is history.
In spite of the many false starts along the way—no pun intended—he continued to persevere in pursuing an opportunity not because he necessarily believed he would develop into what he has become, but because he believed it to be an opportunity to do other things.
Like going back to school. Pro Football Talk quotes Villanueva from a piece in The Athletic in which he talked about his original intentions about playing football. “I never thought I was going to make it in the NFL”, he admitted. “I felt that the reason why I was here was so I could afford to go to business school”.
Football certainly earned himself more than enough money to get his MBA. He was awarded a four-year contract two seasons ago worth $24 million, of which he has already banked $14 million. He should be due for another extension in 2020 after earning two Pro Bowls over the past two seasons.
Still, being a Pro Bowl left tackle and a business student was difficult and demanding. “It was a little crazy, but it all becomes normalized”, he said. “One of the biggest things I learned at West Point was time management. They are always going to put more on your plate than what you can handle”.
Villanueva was enrolled in the Tepper School of Business, named after David Tepper, a Pittsburgh native and former minority owner of the Steelers who purchased the Carolina Panthers last year. The school was named after him following a $67 million donation.