Eagles' Villanueva eager for chance at NFL

PHILADELPHIA -- Alejandro Villanueva is unsure exactly how his future will unfold in the NFL.

But he'll give it everything he's got.

Villanueva, a 6-foot-9 former U.S. Army Ranger, signed a rookie free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. After three deployments to Afghanistan and serving as a U.S. Army Ranger for four years, he left the military.

It was a very difficult decision to leave. It still stings.

"It was a very tough decision," Villanueva said during a break in the Eagles' three-day rookie minicamp, which concluded Sunday. "My wife and I, we just got married last November, and we decided that we weren't going to stay in the military, just for the fact that we move around a lot and it's a lot of sacrifice. I've been watching a lot of the soldiers that we have in our nation go through a lot of tough times with their families, and I decided that I was going to leave after five years. Personally, I would love to stay in the military for 40 years if I could, but I understand that now my priority is my family.

"It's a very difficult transition in terms of what jobs are out there that I can have. Football obviously is the optimal, in terms of what I could be doing in my life, but the decision was very tough."

What was it like dealing with life and death on a daily basis?

"Everybody walks in with the same perspective," Villanueva said. "You always think you're very average and common to the situation. But it just happens. The common factor is time goes by, regardless of whether you're prepared for it or not. You might be prepared for someone in your platoon to die, or you may not because time just goes by. It never stops. Time is your friend, knowing whether you're dead or alive, time is going to keep going. It was tough a couple times in my first deployment."

Villanueva was pressed further about his experience in Afghanistan.

He said his perspective on the people of Afghanistan changed throughout his deployment. At first all he saw was the corruption and the lack of education. But as he matured he recognized the struggles and challenges the country has faced.

"You see the little money that they have, and just the struggle, the 30 years of war," he said. "So my last reaction, the last time I left, was it's a beautiful country, and I just hope the people of Afghanistan can find peace at some point. They deserve it."

Villanueva played many positions at Army: wide receiver, tight end, defensive end and left tackle. He's expected to compete at defensive end while trying to earn a coveted spot with the Eagles.

Villanueva is likely a long shot to make the team, but after what he's been through, this challenge doesn't seem nearly as daunting.

"If I could go back in time, I would have done the exact same thing," Villanueva said. "I loved my experience of going to Afghanistan and experiencing combat. Football is my passion. Even when I was in Afghanistan, I was always turning on [the Armed Forces Network] and watching the games. It's a beautiful game. Obviously, I love competing and I'm taking this as a professional job, not just as entertainment. Afghanistan is over now, and I've just got to look past it."