From Afghanistan to the NFL: Eagles Sign Army Ranger

From Afghanistan to the NFL: Eagles Sign Army Ranger

Pat Tillman went from the NFL to the Army Rangers. Alejandro Villanueva hopes to go from the Army Rangers to the NFL.

The Philadelphia Eagles signed the 6′ 9” defensive lineman to their 90-man roster today. Villanueva led the West Point football team in touchdowns, receptions, and yards during his senior season with Army in 2009. He played as an offensive lineman and defensive end at West Point prior to converting to a receiver. The Eagles hope to transform him back to a defensive lineman. The team watched the soldier perform in April at the Super Regional Combine in Detroit before signing him.

Villanueva, who earned a promotion to captain this month, served three tours in Afghanistan. “While serving with the 10th Mountain Division, Villanueva deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months as a Rifle Platoon Leader,” the Eagles release notes. “During his deployment, he earned a Bronze Star Medal for Valor for moving forward under enemy fire to pull his wounded Soldiers from their isolated position. When Villanueva returned from his first deployment to Afghanistan, he was assigned as a Rifle Company Executive Officer.” Since that initial one-year tour, Villanueva has twice returned to Afghanistan for a total of 20 months in country.

Football, in its martial terminology, reliance on the tactics of field generals, uniformed bands encouraging its players into battle, and mock warfare, once served as a pipeline for the armed forces. “Football IS war on a mimic scale and it will continue just as long as the nation is virile enough to fight,” observed gridiron founding father Walter Camp, recruited to develop a physical fitness routine for soldiers during the First World War. More than 600 NFL players deserted the league for the armed forces during World War II. Pro Football Hall of Famers serving their country during the Second World War include Otto Graham, Art Donovan, Chuck Bednarik, and Tom Landry. So decimated were the Philadelphia Eagles, the club Villanueva seeks to make, that they combined with the Pittsburgh Steelers for a season as the “Steagles.”   

The Army captain making the 53-man roster late this summer may be a long shot. But 25-year-old Villanueva surely has faced adverse conditions and long odds in the past.

Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.