Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Steelers / Karl Roser
Alejandro Villanueva is putting the weight of his dreams on his shoulders. Literally.
Weighing in at a whopping 340 pounds, the 6-foot-9 vet put on nearly 100 pounds since he was cut from the practice roster of the Eagles last August and signed on to the Steelers’ practice squad one week later.
Remember when we wrote about Villanueva’s shift from Army Ranger captain in Afghanistan to rookie free agent for the Philadelphia Eagles? Now it looks like his efforts to make the Steelers might just pay off.
— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) August 12, 2015
As Behind the Steel Curtain said, “Size definitely matters for linemen.”
So, how close is he to making the team?
The 27-year-old is right at the cusp of earning a spot as the Steelers’ No. 3 offensive tackle behind starters Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert. In fact, it seems like nearly every news outlet and sportscaster is framing him as being a true contender. Even his teammates and coaches are talking about how he’s stepping up in a big way for the team — and it’s not hard to understand why.
Pressure is nothing new to Alejandro Villanueva.
Villanueva, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was offensive captain on the Black Knights, leading the team in catches (34), yards (522) and touchdowns (5). Serving with the 10th Mountain Division, Villanueva was deployed in Afghanistan for 12 months, where he earned a Bronze Star Medal for Valor as a rifle platoon leader for moving forward under enemy fire to pull his wounded soldiers from an isolated position.
Upon his return to the states, he was assigned as the company executive officer.
In November 2013, Villanueva volunteered for the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Assessment and Selection Program and served with 1st Ranger Battalion. As a U.S. Army Ranger, he served as a plans officer, a rifle platoon leader and a company executive officer. He deployed to Afghanistan two more times for a total of eight months.
That dedication and methodical, hard work is what fuels Villanueva’s dreams for the NFL. He wanted to hit the workout room at 5 a.m., only to find that the team’s strength coach wasn’t even available at that hour. During the off-season, he was frustrated by the collective bargaining agreement’s restrictions on workouts.
Let’s be honest. It’s nothing less than top-level dedication that lets you pack on 100 pounds of muscle.
A record of success.
In the Aug. 9 Hall of Fame game against Minnesota, Villanueva played 40 snaps for Pittsburgh. What’s significant about his playing time is that he hasn’t played a regular season game since 2009 — his senior year at Army. Taking five years off to serve in the Army would probably slow down the average NFL professional, but it only seemed to make him more steadfast.
It all comes down to the roster next month. If Alejandro Villanueva is placed on the practice squad this season for Pittsburgh, he’ll have to decide how long he’s willing to wait to reach his dreams.
On top of his NFL possibilities, Villanueva was also accepted into Carnegie Mellon University’s business school, where he’ll likely take some classes this fall.
We’ll keep an eye out on this and update you when we hear back.