On this Fourth of July, here is a look at defensive end
Villanueva spent the last four years as an active member of the U.S. Army, serving a total of three tours in Afghanistan. He was most recently promoted to Captain in April. Villanueva has earned many honors for his service, including the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge.
The Eagles watched the 25-year-old Villanueva perform at the Super Regional Combine in Detroit this offseason in April. He last played football in 2009 for Army as a wide receiver after converting to that position prior to his senior season. That year, Villanueva served as the Black Knights offensive captain and led the team in catches (34), yards (522) and touchdowns (5). He originally began his career at Army seeing action as a reserve defensive lineman from 2006-07 before making the transition to left tackle in 2008, starting all 12 games at that position in his junior campaign.
Villanueva graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering and was commissioned into the U.S. Army on May 22, 2010 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry. He then moved to Fort Benning, Ga., to attend the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Basic Airborne Course and the U.S. Army Ranger Course.
Villanueva is used to hanging up his helmet after a long day of work. He's been doing it for the last eight years or so. But on a recent Friday, there was something slightly different about the routine. Instead of hanging up a military helmet, this time he hung up a different kind of helmet – one with a facemask.
Now that rookie camp has begun, Villanueva is adjusting on the fly to the NFL lifestyle.
"The biggest transition in my life right now is leaving the military," Villanueva said. "I've been wearing a uniform and a flag for about eight years now. It's all I know. I can't remember anything that happened before going to West Point. It's kind of different not saluting the flag in the morning, not saying the Ranger Creed and not hanging up your military helmet at the end of the day, as opposed to a football helmet."
Villanueva had clearly become fully immersed in the military lifestyle, but after three deployments to Afghanistan, he decided it was time to retire his fatigues. It was an unselfish act, taking into account those around him, but that didn't make the decision any easier.
"It was a very tough decision," Villanueva explained. "My wife and I, we just got married last November, and we decided that we weren't going to stay in the military, just for the fact that we move around a lot and it's a lot of sacrifice. I've been watching a lot of the soldiers that we have in our nation go through a lot of tough times with their families, and I decided that I was going to leave after five years.
"Personally, I would love to stay in the military for 40 years if I could, but I understand that now my priority is my family. It's a very difficult transition in terms of what jobs are out there that I can have. Football obviously is the optimal, in terms of what I could be doing in my life, but the decision was very tough." ... READ MORE
Eagles Are Next Stop In Villanueva's Journey
The newest Philadelphia Eagle has taken anything but a traditional path to get to this moment. After three deployments in Afghanistan as a United States Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva is now in the midst of transitioning back to civilian life. As he contemplated what his next step in life would be, Villanueva, decided he wanted to try playing football at the highest level.
"This opportunity, obviously it's something I've worked pretty hard for," said Villanueva, a former offensive lineman and, wait for it, wide receiver during his college career at Army. "Going through the Regional and Super Regional Combine … has been truly a blessing. To get a look from the Eagles and be invited to come here and a work out and ultimately be able to sign, I'm very blessed and feel very fortunate for this opportunity. I don't want to disappoint anybody and will work as hard as I can and give it my best shot."
The Regional and Super Regional Combine events are not the same as the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. They are for hopeful players way off the grid, including those who participated in other sports in college or have been away from football for years for whatever reason. The chances of making it from a Regional Combine to the Super Regional Combine are slim, and even slimmer of making it onto an NFL roster from there. Yet these showcases are around specifically for hopefuls like Villanueva, men who want to make someone take notice so they can get that one last shot at chasing a dream.
"I went (to the Regional Combine) without an agent," Villanueva said. "It was a situation where I got back from my deployment and had this opportunity come up. I wasn't really in shape, to be honest, but I thought there was maybe potential to get me to the Super Regional and buy a little more time to work out. Once I completed the Regional in Atlanta, I was invited to the Super Regional, where I was able to perform in front of NFL scouts, and that's when the Eagles took a look at me. One of their scouts was sent out there, all 32 teams had scouts there, looking for one or two guys who might bring something to a team. I had a lot of phone calls from team (after the Super Regional), asking me about my ability to get out of the army and play football. I didn't really keep track of which teams called, but the Eagles showed the most interest and that's ultimately why I ended up here." ... READ MORE
Villanueva's Progress Amazes Chip Kelly
After a set of spring practices in which the majority sentiment harped on an increased efficiency and familiarity in the system in Chip Kelly's second season, no one was further behind the proverbial eight-ball than Alejandro Villanueva. After serving four years as a U.S. Army Ranger, including three tours in Afghanistan, Villanueva signed with the Eagles this offseason to return to football for the first time since 2009.
Of course, his transition didn't end there. Beyond returning to civilian life and adjusting different physical requirements, Villanueva is also learning a brand new position. After bouncing between tackle, tight end and wide receiver in college, the 6-foot-9 Villanueva is now a member of the Eagles defensive line.
"I've been kind of partially amazed that he could do what he's done," head coach Chip Kelly said on the closing day of minicamp. "He was training such in a different realm, I think he was preparing for a lot of the PT work that he did in the Army, he was running five miles a day. We're certainly not asking our defensive linemen to run five miles a day. There was one day here … I think he went from here to an Army training session and went out and had a couple PT tests that he had to pass and actually one of them was a five-mile test. He nailed it and came back and didn't miss a day. He's been just a guy that you see every day just getting a little bit better, getting a little bit better. As I said the other day, a real intriguing prospect but just amazed at everything that Alejandro does to be honest with you." ... READ MORE