'It felt like home': Steelers' Al Villanueva returns to Army base in Germany

PITTSBURGH -- Alejandro Villanueva knows how to maximize an offseason. He takes business classes at Carnegie Mellon University and spends time fishing in Florida and Canada.

Last month was all about savoring nostalgia from the fields of Kaiserslautern High School in Germany.

As an honorary football coach to military members as part of the USAA's Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp, Villanueva returned to the place where his career as a U.S. Army Ranger began.

"As soon as I landed in Germany, it felt like it was home," said Villanueva, who served in Afghanistan before working his way into the NFL. "Last time here [at Kaiserslautern] was with my dad getting my physical for the U.S. military."

The boot camp -- combining communities from Kaiserslautern military and the Ramstein Air Base -- gives servicemen the chance to train like NFL players. True to Steelers form, they trained in a light coat of April snowfall.

From the sounds of it, Villanueva wasn't exactly hard on his participants in boot camp. While talking about the experience over the phone, he bragged about how he just threw a ball 45 yards. He oversaw the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, three-cone shuttle, receiving gauntlet and quarterback arm challenge.

This was USAA's first boot camp session held on an overseas U.S. military base, which made Villanueva proud.

"It's bridging the past and present with what I've experienced," Villanueva said of his trip. "To be received by the military community here is something special."

Villanueva is one of the most recognizable figures in the league's relationship with the armed forces. Every season, Villanueva honors teammates with helmet decals from various Army divisions. He pairs decals with players whose personalities match the spirit of a specific division.

He hoped to teach football in Germany while converting a few Steelers fans along the way. It appears he's well on his way to achieving that second goal.

"People follow sports differently, but there's a huge, massive Steelers following, which is really cool," Villanueva said. "I've seen terrible towels around here."