The Philadelphia Eagles announced that they've signed 6-foot-9 Army vet Alejandro Villanueva to a rookie free-agent contract. Villanueva will come to training camp as a defensive linemen, although he played for the Army Black Knights as both a wide receiver and offensive left tackle.
Since his final college season in 2009, Villanueva has served three tours in Afghanistan and was recently promoted to captain. He earned the Bronze Star Medal for valor during his first tour for moving forward under enemy fire to pull wounded soldiers from an isolated position.
Villanueva got the attention of Eagles scouts last month in Detroit at the Super Regional Combine, an event where teams can look closely at players who impressed at a series of open regional combines. The events attract players from small schools and guys who might not have played for a while. Of course, Villanueva's reasons for not playing were different that everyone else's. This particular combine is a legitimate path to the NFL, even though you don't hear much about it on talk radio or ESPN. There were 240 players at the event this year after last year's combine led to 91 free-agent signings and four were drafted.
Not many players get their NFL shot at a position they never played in college, but the Eagles think that Villanueva's wingspan at 6-foot-9, his 277-lb. frame and the the toughness he displayed on the ground in Afghanistan make him a legitimate candidate for the defensive line.
You can watch some of Villanueva's wide receiver game film below to get an idea of just how big he is. We'll follow his progress once training camp opens in July.