Alejandro Villanueva (American football)
Villanueva with the Steelers in 2015
|No. 78 Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Date of birth:||September 22, 1988|
|Place of birth:||Meridian, Mississippi|
|Height:||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Weight:||320 lb (145 kg)|
|High school:||SHAPE High School (Casteau, Belgium)|
|* Offseason and/or practice squad member only|
|Career NFL statistics as of Week 12, 2016|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||2010 – present|
Alejandro "Ali" Villanueva (born September 22, 1988) is an American football offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL). Villanueva is also a Captain in the United States Army, in which he served as an Army Ranger and was decorated with a Bronze Star for valor. He played college football for the Army Black Knights, being recruited at one position and playing three others during the course of his career. After serving three tours of duty in Afghanistan, he signed a contract with the Eagles on May 5, 2014, after working out in a regional showcase.
Villanueva was born on Naval Air Station Meridian in Meridian, Mississippi to Spanish nationals Ignacio Villanueva, a Spanish Naval officer who worked for NATO, and Matilda Martin. Both his mother and father are over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. Of the family's four children, Alejandro, Paloma, Iñaki and Carmen; Alejandro was the eldest. During his childhood, he lived in Rhode Island, Spain, and Belgium; in Spain, he learned to play rugby, which, for a time, he preferred to football, which he began to play in Belgium. It was while he was attending SHAPE High School in Casteau, Belgium that he was recruited to play American football. Villanueva's childhood friend whom he'd met at SHAPE HS was recruited to play football for the Army Black Knights and his friend told the Army coaches about Villanueva. They kept in touch and Villanueva told him that he was considering attending West Point. Later Villanueva enrolled in West Point.
His brother Iñaki Villanueva is a professional rugby union player. He plays with the Spain national rugby union team and with the sevens team. He was in the squad that qualified for the 2016 Olympics and he played the Olympic tournament.
Villanueva played college football for the Army Black Knights at several positions, including left tackle, defensive lineman, and wide receiver. Though originally recruited as a tight end, he played defensive end during his freshman season, mostly on special teams. In his sophomore season offensive line coach John Tice lobbied to have Villanueva converted to an offensive tackle which occurred near the end of his sophomore year. By his junior season he started every game at left tackle. Voted a team captain before his senior year, he reluctantly converted once more to become a 290 pounds (130 kg) wide receiver; a feature story in the Army football program read, "Already touted as the tallest football player in the country, Villanueva completed the transformation from being an offensive lineman for the past two years, to running routes on the field with the starting offense last Saturday night." His height, while reported by Army Football in 2009 to be 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m), was given by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 as 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m).
After going undrafted in the 2010 draft, Villanueva tried out with the Cincinnati Bengals as a tight end but did not make the team and went back into military service. Two years later, he made a second attempt to play in the NFL again as a tight end. He was given a tryout and practiced with the Chicago Bears, but was not signed.
On May 5, 2014, he was signed to the Philadelphia Eagles for an undisclosed contract to play as a defensive end. His signing marked the second time the Eagles had signed a military veteran in recent years, having previously had Chad Hall, a wide receiver from the Air Force, as a member of the team. Villanueva has said that if he does not make an NFL roster, he plans to serve a fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan. He commented, "I see this as a win-win situation. Obviously, I’m trying to get to a team and contribute. But if I can’t, then I can't wait to get back to the Army and serve in the same manner that I have." During training camp, Villanueva gained 40 pounds (18 kg), noting that he is eating a consistent diet, which contrasted with his military career insofar as while in the military, he often did not have time or inclination to eat, whereas with the Eagles, he is getting "plenty to eat". It was announced on Saturday, August 23 that he was one of fourteen players cut from the team.
During a pre-season game against the Steelers, Villanueva was spotted by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. After Tomlin was impressed by Villanueva's size, the Steelers signed him to a two-year, $960,000 reserve/futures contract on January 6, 2015. Upon joining his new team, he was immediately changed from a defensive end to a left tackle, as it was thought to better suit him. As a defensive end for the Eagles, Villanueva weighed 250 lbs. Within a year of becoming an offensive tackle, he rose up to 340 lbs.
Throughout the 2014 season, Villanueva was kept on the practice squad to learn the position, put on more weight, and develop his abilities. He made his debut the following year during the 2015 season opener against the New England Patriots, playing five snaps as an extra tackle on goal-line plays.
The following year, he was able to get reps in training camp and preseason as the second-team swing tackle, after Mike Adams suffered an injury. With Adams unable to recover before the regular season, Villanueva was slated as the Steeler's swing tackle to begin the 2015 season. He also appeared on special teams and played a few plays at tight end during this period.
The following week, Villanueva received his first career start at offensive tackle since his sophomore year at Army in 2008 and was tasked with blocking Kansas City Chiefs Pro-Bowl defensive end, Tamba Hali. He allowed a stripped sack in the fourth quarter, allowing the Chiefs to defeat the Steelers. With Beachum out for the remainder of the season, Villanueva continued to play left tackle and started the last 12 games of the Steeler's season, including two playoffs games.
Villanueva was named the starting left tackle position to begin 2016 after Kelvin Beachum left via free agency and Villanueva outperformed Ryan Harris in training camp.
After graduating from the United States Military Academy Villanueva was commissioned into the United States Army on May 22, 2010 as a second lieutenant in the Infantry. Directly after being commissioned he attended various military schools, including the Infantry, Airborne and Ranger Schools; all located at Fort Benning, Georgia. After completing the three courses he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. It was with the 10th Mountain Division he deployed for the first time; for 12 months to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan as a rifle platoon leader. As a result of his actions during this deployment he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire. When he returned from his deployment he was reassigned as a company executive officer.
Villanueva volunteered for the 75th Ranger Regiment's Ranger Orientation Program in 2013. He was assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion. His roles within the Battalion have included plans officer, platoon leader and company executive officer.
Villanueva began a partnership with USAA in 2016 and appeared in one of the company's member's voices commercials.
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- Ryan Wilson. "From Army Ranger to Steeler's tackle, Villanueca Excels at Protection". CBSSports.com. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
- "Ex-Army Ranger & NFL player Alejandro Villanueva makes endorsement deal with USAA". undertheradar.com. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
- Philadelphia Eagles bio
- Media related to Alejandro Villanueva (American football) at Wikimedia Commons