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Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva much more than a practice-squad player

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opened his weekly news conference by thanking all of those who serve and have served in the military.

He also announced that the Steelers would do more than just honor West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive lineman, on Veteran's Day.

Villanueva, who was signed to the Steelers' practice squad in early September, will make the trip with the team to Nashville on Sunday.

The Steelers play the Tennessee Titans on Monday night and practice-squad players generally don't travel with the team to road games.

"Just a sign or a token of our appreciation for not only the sacrifice he's made but all of the men and women in the history of our country," Tomlin said of the Steelers' decision to have Villanueva travel with them to Nashville. "Truly a humbling thing and it's great to have him be a part of us. It makes it personal in terms of understanding that sacrifice."

Villanueva who has as unique a story as anyone on the Steelers -- or in any NFL locker room -- is trying to achieve his dream of playing football at the highest level after distinguishing himself as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, among other places.

Villanueva tried to make the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end but he was cut in the preseason. The Steelers signed Villanueva with the hopes of turning him into an offensive tackle.

He has fit in well with the Steelers and left his teammates, especially the offensive linemen, in awe when they have asked him about his service.

On this day -- but not only this day -- it is worth reading Villanueva's story, which ESPN's Ashley Fox wrote last May, and giving thanks to the people who protect our country.

"We acknowledged him (Monday) in our team meeting," Tomlin said of Villanueva. "We'll honor him not only today but all week."