Gridiron or Foxhole, Steelers Lineman And Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva Lives To Protect

Leadership is an admirable quality, no matter the uniform. It won’t show up on stat sheets, but you know it when you see it

Leadership is an admirable quality, no matter the uniform. It won’t show up on stat sheets, but you know it when you see it. The case could be made that quality leadership is a must-have for success in any line of work. Leaders close giant deals, change the way we view the world, make key blocks on touchdown drives, and protect loved ones from afar.

If you had to pick a place where leaders are molded and then given to the world, few places would fit the bill better than the United States Military Academy, or, as it’s been known since before the likes of Ulysses S. Grant and General George Patton attended, West Point.

It should come as no surprise that someone as accomplished as NFL lineman Alejandro Villanueva once walked its grounds. Leadership and physical performance helped calculate his class rank. He had tactical training and the opportunity to serve with active army units worldwide before he received his degree.

Alejandro Villanueva graduated West Point in 2010. Agile and strong enough to walk on his hands for 20 yards in high school, Villanueva flourished on the football field for the Black Knights. He tried out for the Cincinnati Bengals, but was cut. He didn’t lose any sleep over it. Service was his first love, and the Army is where he pursued that love for three tours.

In 2014, the Ranger who played tight end, wide receiver, and defensive lineman decided he’d give the NFL one last try. He caught on with the Philadelphia Eagles in training camp.

The Eagles eventually cut him, but not until he’d opened some eyes around the league. He wound up on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster after head coach Mike Tomlin saw a glimpse of the guy a head taller than the other players saluting during the national anthem. He was largely an afterthought until an injury to then-starter Kelvin Beachum gave him an opportunity to prove himself worthy of a starting slot.

Leading a platoon in the army taught him to calculate risk, and to put his best foot forward for everyone on his team. According to offensive line coach Todd Haley — and the depth chart — the lessons stuck. He held the starting spot for the next 12 games, including two against the eventual champion Denver Broncos, in which Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger threw for a combined 907 yards.

Born in Meridian, Mississippi to native Spanish parents, the still-active duty Villanueva came to the game of football much later than his love for service. In fact, football was once a distant fourth — he didn’t play until his high school years in Belgium, eventually focusing on the gridiron over rugby and swimming.

As for his service, he owes it to his father’s influence. Ignacio Villanueva, who worked with NATO as an officer of the Spanish Navy, was the example that led him to enroll at the military academy and serve in the Army.

By the time college rolled around, Villanueva — known to high school teammates as “giant amigo” — had displayed a love for the game mixed with a healthy dose of athleticism uncommon to men similar in stature. He had the tools to bounce around the field both on the Black Knights’ depth chart and on the field of play, absorbing hits from smaller players. A tight end turned defensive lineman turned offensive tackle later turned wide receiver, he ended his senior year with 34 grabs for 552 yards and five trips to the end zone.

He stood out no matter where he lined up. Soldiers adapt and thrive quickly.

For a select few college players, an NCAA career’s end means selection in the NFL draft. Villanueva had his sights set on an entirely different goal. Instead of priming himself for interviews with scouts and figuring out the correct spelling of Wonderlic, he had bigger plans. When a Bengals tryout didn’t pan out, he was more than happy to pursue the alternative.

And, though the working conditions are better and the planes are first class as a Steeler, if it all came to a halt tomorrow in the NFL, Villanueva wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep. He’d just as readily lace up his boots again as he would his cleats.

Villanueva, described by both coaches and teammates as the consummate professional, eager to bounce back from bad plays and intent on picking scouting tape apart for an on-field edge, seems to play the most chaotic of sports with a unique calm. As impressive as his ability to thrive as a key cog in a high-powered NFL offense may be, his on-field exploits pale in comparison to those of the Army Ranger he once was, and would love to be again.

Villanueva had taken to the example of a devoted military man long before he ever envisioned himself pancaking a defensive lineman. His father dedicated his life to service of both country and family, and for Villanueva, his desire to serve his country would give him an even larger family with which to serve his country.

Lieutenant V won his fellow troops over with his ability to listen and learn. With an all-pro lineman like Maurkice Pouncey around, he’s endeared himself to teammates in the same way.

Excelling at West Point prepared him for his time defending his country. It certainly prepared him for the thrill of victory. Those victories, however, have come in large part through Villanueva’s preparation.

Villanueva looks back at most of his time spent in Afghanistan with a reverent nostalgia. He doesn’t go into great detail on his time in the field, but when he does, what shines through almost immediately is the great love and respect he still holds for his fellow soldiers. Their closeness was no more evident than in the stands when the Steelers played the Kansas City Chiefs in week seven in 2015, when Kansas City Native staff Sgt. Jeremy Simon cheered the former Lieutenant he had once taken under his wing.

Still, it doesn’t take a decorated Army Ranger to know that defending one’s country and defending one’s quarterback are altogether different tasks. The transition has been bumpy. At that same Kansas City game, he gave up two sacks to a five-time Pro Bowler. Some rookies would chalk it up to the learning curve. The soldier in him looked at his fellow linemen and saw a high standard. There would be no settling for number 78. Regardless of what coaches told him about what would come with experience, Villanueva required more of himself.

After three tours for his country and countrymen, Villanueva isn’t quite ready to close the book on his career in camo. At this point, it would only make sense for him to go from Afghanistan to Pittsburgh and back again. He’s displayed the ability to lead, protect, and sacrifice for the good of his teammates at every level. He doesn’t seem conscripted by the allure of a lucrative contract, and he doesn’t play a position that lends itself to glamour. For Villanueva, service and protection seem like what he was meant to do. When the clock runs out in his last game and the terrible towels stop waving, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go back to the team he loved playing for first.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Paras Griffin

It Was Pandemonium: Remembering 5 of B2K’s Career-Defining Moments

At the tail-end of last year, B2K sent the world into a familiar pandemonium following the announcement of their aptly titled reunion, the Millennium Tour. After 15 years, the group came back together to tap into our undying love of early 2000’s nostalgia, reminding fans at each tour stop why the “boys of the new millennium,” were arguably one of the biggest Black boy groups to do it since The Jackson 5.

"We are excited to be a part of what will undeniably be a nostalgic and electrifying performance,” Michelle Le Fleur, COO at Omarion Worldwide, – told Billboard in 2018. "While admiring their solo successes, the fans have consistently demanded a B2K reunion and, with the determination of an incredibly talented team, that dream is now a reality."

In the tour’s latter days, it was confirmed that Raz-B and J-Boog’s ups and downs on the road would be one of a few gripping storylines featured on season six of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood, premiering Monday Aug. 5 at 8/7c, so it’s only right that we celebrate by looking back at a few of the quartet's biggest moments:

Early Chart Dominance

In 2002, the same year that Justin Timberlake launched his solo career and Nelly and Kelly had their “Dilemma,” B2K's self-titled debut album took the R&B world by storm. The album, which boasted the hit singles “Uh Huh” and “Gots Ta Be,” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart. They’d also join Bow Wow, who was no longer “Lil,”  on the Scream 2 tour on July 25 of that same year.

Pandemonium Ensued

Hot on the heels of B2K’s self-titled success, Pandemonium dropped on Dec.10, 2002 and "Bump, Bump, Bump" peaked at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single became the group's first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 chart and spent a week at No. 1, positioning them to take home the best group and viewer’s choice honors at the BET Awards the following summer.


An Untimely End

At the height of their popularity, B2K would announce their split on BET's 106 & Park in Jan. 2004 to the dismay of R&B fans everywhere. Omarion would later state that the decision was ultimately caused by the group’s mutual desire to seek out solo success. “It is true that B2K broke up but it’s not about me leaving or them leaving. It’s about us growing up and wanting to do our own thing,”  he told Jet magazine in 2004.

Omarion Joins Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood

In 2014, Omarion joined the cast of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood alongside Fizz, Ray J, Soulja Boy, and more. The stint would come ten years after the launch of his solo career, during which, he blessed listeners with four albums (O, 21, Ollusion, Sex Playlist) in addition to playing a lead role alongside his former group members in You Got Served.


B2K Reunites

2019 saw the launch of the Millennium Tour, which B2K headlined with Mario, the Ying Yang Twins, Chingy, Pretty Ricky, Bobby V, and Lloyd. The tour was an immediate success,  grossing $5 million just three shows into a 25-date cross country stretch. Though initially slated to end in April, on July 11 Drake took to his Instagram to announce that B2K would be making an unexpected final tour stop as co-headliners of his annual Toronto-based OVO Fest.

If you weren’t one of the lucky thousands who got to catch B2K on the road, then VH1 has you covered. Season six of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood airs on Monday, August 5 at 8/7c and will feature behind the scenes moments from the Millennium Tour that you won’t want to miss. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

This is branded content, produced by our marketing department in partnership with our advertisers—not by editorial.


Continue Reading

You’re Invited: VIBE VSessions in Los Angeles with Casey Veggies, Kodie Shane, and Buddy

Calling all Los Angeles teens! We are gearing up for our third and final VIBE VSessions — a FREE live concert series in partnership with Fresh Empire, a lifestyle brand dedicated to encouraging youth to reach their goals tobacco-free. The show is open to music lovers ages 13 to 19 and will host some of the most exciting up-and-coming names in hip-hop.

The VIBE VSessions event will feature full sets by LA's own Casey Veggies, Lil Yachty-endorsed Atlanta prodigy Kodie Shane, and rising star Buddy. Host DJ Hed will kick off the night. Attendees at the show will have the chance to take part in on-site giveaways, artist meet-and-greets, and more.

Join us on Saturday, May 13th from 5:00 - 9:00 pm at Hyde on Sunset Boulevard.

Mandatory RSVP at for tickets. Please note entrance is based on capacity so get there early!

Continue Reading
Paul R. Giunta

Metro Boomin Rocks Fresh Empire and VIBE's VSessions Feat. YG, Speakerfoxxx, and DJ Jelly

VIBE VSessions descended to Atlanta for a highly-anticipated night of high-powered DJ sets. In an effort to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle, teens ranging from ages 13-19 filled the dance floor at The Loft's Center Stage, a premiere concert venue located in the heart of midtown. V-103's Big Tigger served as the host setting the tone for the Fresh Empire “lituation.”

While attendees laced up with free swag and photos ops, the show kicked off with Southern Style DJ's own DJ Jelly spinning a 45-minute selection of old and new school hip-hop bangers, ranging from legendary rap collective the Dungeon Family down to trap superstar Young Thug. The energy in the room was pure pandemonium leading to the flawless introduction of Speakerfoxxx, better known as “The Queen of ATL.”

“There is no better place than performing at home,” she said while jumping into her set playing an eclectic mix of hip-hop infused electronic records. The Atlanta native made sure concert-goers enjoyed every minute of their escape from the parentals. Whether she was playing the latest from Gucci Mane, Lil Uzi or 2 Chainz, the crowd just couldn’t stop dabbing to the beats.

Speakerfoxxx kept the momentum going for one hour before her close friend and headliner Metro Boomin hit the stage to wrap up the evening. His cult following began shouting, “If Young Metro don’t trust you,” and from that point, the vibe in the crowd skyrocketed to 100 - real quick. It was only right that he began his set with songs from close comrades Future and Drake like “Where Ya A** Was At,” “Jersey,” and the ultimate ATL anthem “Bad and Bougie” by Migos.

Popular YouTube dancers Meechie and Toosi came and kicked it along with upcoming rapper Sahbaii who performed “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick," the latest hit single Metro is co-signing as next to top the charts. West Coast rapper YG also popped up and rapped a few bars from "Who Do You Love" on his studio album, My Krazy Life and more.

Before the show ended three lucky teens got the chance to win a meet-and-greet with Metro himself. The Atlanta edition of VIBE's VSessions was certainly one for the books and the perfect interlude before the Falcons played in the NFL championship on Super Bowl Sunday.

Fresh Empire's national campaign promotes tobacco-free living while educating youth about the health risks with smoking cigarettes. According to the CDC, each day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette, and approximately 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers. Additionally, if smoking continues at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness.

Continue Reading

Top Stories