Several collegiate standouts will join the Eagles via the draft this week, but Monday brought a reminder that there are a variety of ways to get to the NFL.
Alejandro Villanueva followed a rarely traveled one. The Eagles announced that they have signed Villanueva as a free agent after he spent the last four years as a U.S. Army Ranger. Captain Villanueva served three tours in Afghanistan and has received the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab and many other commendations during his years of service.
Villanueva’s unusual football story goes beyond his military service. Villanueva, who measures in at 6-9 and 277 pounds, started at left tackle during his junior year at West Point and then moved to wide receiver as a senior in a shift of responsibilities that’s rarely seen outside of backyard touch football games. He led the Black Knights with five touchdown catches this year but Chip Kelly and company are going to take a look at Villanueva as a defensive lineman, which is another position he played during his college days.
Villanueva spent a little time with the Bengals four years ago before doing his military service and took part in the Super Regional Combine earlier this year. He told Albert Breer of NFL Network that he’ll head back for another tour if he doesn’t make it onto an NFL roster.
“The four years I’ve had in the Army have been the best four years you could ask for,” Villanueva said. “The guys I served with … above me and under me … were phenomenal guys. They were good experiences that made me the man I am today. But now, 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.”
Villanueva may be a long shot, but he’s an awfully easy one to root for.
[Photo credit: PhiladelphiaEagles.com]