The former Army Ranger is learning the nuances of offensive tackle following his distinguished military service, and there is a lot to like about Villanueva.
The 6-foot-9, 267-pounder has the frame to play tackle in the NFL and he is plenty athletic. Villanueva started at offensive tackle for two seasons at Army. His senior season he moved to wide receiver and led the Black Knights in receiving in 2009 with 34 catches for 522 yards and five touchdowns.
“Catching the football is really fun and that’s what I found out in college, but I think this position is where I belong,” Villanueva said. “I love playing line, especially with the great guys that the [Steelers] have and Coach [Mike Munchak]. So for me, it’s a great opportunity.”
To say Villanueva took a circuitous route to his current opportunity is an understatement.
He fulfilled his military commitment after graduating from West Point, serving with distinction in Afghanistan before pursuing his dream of playing in the NFL.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed Villanueva last May and gave him a long look at defensive end. After the Eagles released Villanueva before final cuts in the preseason, the Steelers brought him in for a workout.
They signed him to the practice squad in early September after coach Mike Tomlin met with Villanueva and told him that they wanted to develop him as an offensive tackle.
Villanueva was more than agreeable to it, especially since he has the chance to work with Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard who also has extensive experience coaching offensive linemen.
“He’s a great coach, so I enjoy coming in to work," Villanueva said. "Obviously in the offseason he’ll have some time to develop me and spend more time. I feel confident that I can do it. I’m going to keep working.”
Tomlin announced at the beginning of the week that Villanueva will travel with the team to Tennessee on Sunday. A handful of veteran players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, suggested the gesture as a way of honoring Villanueva less than a week after Veteran’s Day.
“I think it’s the least that we can do for someone that has done so much for our country,” Roethlisberger said.