Alejandro Villanueva has made a remarkable journey from West Point to starting left tackle for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and now USAA has included him in its USAA Member Voices commercials series. You may have seen the 30-second spot during this past weekend's NFL broadcasts. We've got a 2-minute extended version below that goes into more detail about Villanueva's military career.
The 6'9" cadet played several offensive and defensive positions at West Point before beginning his military service. He rose to the rank of Captain and served as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Bronze Star for rescuing soldiers under fire.
After leaving the Army, he walked on to the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spotted Villanueva during a preseason game against the Eagles and signed him to the team's practice squad. After deciding that the player had a future as an offensive tackle, the team helped him bulk up almost a hundred pounds to 340 and Villanueva became the team's starting left tackle late in the 2015 season.
If you're an NFL fan, you know how outrageous this story is. The league cycles through players without blinking: teams never invest the time and effort into an individual player the way the Steelers have developed Villanueva. Tomlin recognized his leadership qualities and decided that he wanted to find a way for the Steelers to use them. The coach even told the Pittsburgh media this week that he'd vote for Villaneuva for president, saying "Given time, this guy is gonna master anything you put in front of him."
You know about USAA. You may not realize that they're "The Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL." As with all commercials that run during sporting events, you'll see Villanueva's spot so many times that you'll likely be able to recite it from memory before Thanksgiving.