PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Sports figures are routinely referred to as heroes.
We hear the term used in conjunction with athletes all the time. In most cases, it's the wrong usage. But in the case of one Steeler, there's the story of a true American hero.
He's the tallest guy on the field, towering over the Steelers o-line at 6-feet-9-inches tall.
Alejandro Villanueva is a project in the making. He hasn't played football in more than five years.
"Obviously, a great chance and opportunity that Coach Tomlin has given me," says Villanueva.
There is a very good reason for his absence from the football field. Lt. Villanueva, that is, has spent the last four years with the United States Army, serving a total of three tours in Afghanistan.
"You tell anybody who has been there, who has been a platoon leader in combat, you tell them if they could go back there again, they would give up everything to do it all over again. So, I kinda feel the same way," says Villanueva. "I wish I had another opportunity to go back with some of the men I've served with, but those opportunities are very tough right now, and obviously, the nation has a different focus in terms of what we're trying to do in Afghanistan. But it was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a really good experience, and I was very privileged to serve with those men out there."
Villanueva's focus now shifts to the Steelers and learning everything he can about his new team, teammates, and new position.
Big No. 78 was a defensive lineman at camp with the Philadelphia Eagles, and now switched to the o-line with the Steelers.
"Everything is shifting so fast. Obviously, I like playing offense, I've done it before, but defense was pretty fun, too," Villanueva said. "For me, it's just about being able to get some reps and get comfortable in one position."
Going up against a 300-pound defensive lineman is nothing compared to the battles he faced overseas.
Villanueva received a Bronze Star for advancing under enemy fire to reach and rescue wounded soldiers. He embodies the word teammate, but doesn't want to be called a hero.
"I was not a hero at all, I just literally did what I was supposed to do in terms of a couple nights we got in really bad situations and we reacted as a group. If you were there and you could help, you were going to do something," he said. "It wasn't a hero action or anything like that."
This Army Ranger turned Pittsburgh Steeler is very humble and very honored to have serve his country.
"It was my pleasure to serve in the U.S. Army. It was a huge privilege I would say. And I should be thankful to the U.S. Army for letting me lead my men into combat," Villanueva said. "Some people appreciate it, that's very honorable of the mentality of the United States to appreciate the service of the men and women. But I did it because it was the funnest thing in the world and the most honorable job I think anybody could have."
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