Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, made his first ever start in the NFL, when he suited up for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in their 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Villanueva, who played college football at West Point, joined the Army Rangers after graduation in 2009. Villanueva was stationed as a second lieutenant in Kandahar Providence, earning the bronze star for helping rescue a wounded soldier in combat.
Standing 6-foot-9, Villanueva stood out on the battlefield, earning the nickname “the giant” from Taliban fighters. Even among his NFL teammates, Villanueva’s height is unusual, and it’s what got the attention of Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin said he first noticed Villanueva before the Steelers’ preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“There was a guy standing over there about a head taller than everybody else saluting during the anthem and it kind of got my attention,” Tomlin told Fox News Latino. “I wanted to know about this enormous human being over there saluting.”
Tomlin sought to covert Villanueva from a defensive end to offensive tackle, and invited him to the Steelers training camp. After putting on 65 pounds, Villanueva made Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster.
Even though he has his footing in the NFL, Villanueva is still in the Army reserve and working on his MBA at Carnegie Mellon University.