Alejandro Villanueva will always hold his time serving as an Army Ranger close to his heart. His appreciation, respect and admiration for the men and women who continue to serve, will never falter. It was a part of him, continues to be a part of him, and will always be a part of him.
But Villanueva has made a name for himself doing something else. Playing football.
And his ability to do that in a top-notch manner was rewarded when the Steelers signed Villanueva, who was an exclusive rights free agent, to a four-year contract.
Villanueva started all 16 regular season games last year, as well as the three postseason games, at left tackle. He was part of an offensive line that helped Le'Veon Bell break records, as well as allowing only 17 sacks, the fewest of Ben Roethlisberger's career.
"I personally take pride in executing to the best of my abilities for the expectations Coach (Mike) Munchak has for myself and I think that is the same for everybody," said Villanueva. "Protecting Ben is very important. He is our quarterback. He is a guy we respect, love to play for, he is a guy that inspires us, drives the offense, the team. We understand the urgency to protect him."
In 2015 Villanueva played in all 16 games, starting the final 10 after Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season with a torn ACL and he made the most of it, despite his road to the NFL not being an easy one.
Villanueva's dream of playing in the NFL began while he was at West Point, but after he wasn't drafted in 2010, he wasn't sure if it would ever happen. Villanueva got a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals, and went to their rookie minicamp where he worked at tight end. He wasn't signed, instead heading out in his first of three deployments as an Army Ranger. When he returned he gave it another shot with the Chicago Bears, but again was signed and was deployed and football would have to wait.
In 2014 he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was cut during camp. And then his break came. Coach Mike Tomlin had noticed Villanueva and the way he stood during the National Anthem and inquired about him. About a week after the Eagles let him go the Steelers signed him to their practice squad.
For Villanueva, who had seen the ups and downs of the NFL, he initially had his doubts. But then he realized things were different in Pittsburgh.
"This organization is special," said Villanueva. "It was different.
"In other organizations, they might know you, who you are. They might have heard of you, but they don't value you as a person. They care about me here not as a veteran, not as a football player, not as a MBA candidate. They care about me as a person."