Alejandro Villanueva, the Ranger-turned-Pittsburgh Steeler who received national attention during the recent NFL anthem controversy, has received an on-field accolade that hasn’t been bestowed upon a service academy graduate in nearly 40 years.
The Pittsburgh offensive tackle was one of a league-high eight Steelers selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday night, and one of three Steelers linemen selected to start the contest. No service academy player has been chosen for the Pro Bowl since Navy (and Dallas Cowboys) standout Roger Staubach in 1979, according to an Army West Point news release.
No U.S, Military Academy grad has reached the game since Heisman Trophy winner Glenn Davis in 1951, per the release. West Point grad Bob Mischak was named an American Football League All-Star for his play on the New York Titans’ offensive line in 1961 and 1962, according to West Point; the AFL and NFL announced their merger in 1966 and didn’t complete it until 1970.
Villanueva, a 2010 graduate, deployed three times to Afghanistan while on active duty from 2010 to 2014, earning a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device in the process. After playing wide receiver his senior season at West Point and trying to catch on with the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive lineman, Villanueva switched to offense with the Steelers, making the main roster in 2015 after spending the previous season on the practice squad.
The 6-foot-9, 320-pounder took on a starting role that year and has held it ever since, starting every game in 2016 and all 14 so far in 2017.
He’s also been seen during commercial breaks, and his jersey became the top seller on NFL.com in September after he stood just outside the stadium tunnel, hand over heart, during the national anthem while his teammates remained out of view. He would later explain the move as an “embarrassing” miscommunication with his teammates, rather than a political or patriotic stance.
The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 28 in Orlando, Florida. Villanueva will miss the contest if his Steelers reach the Super Bowl, set for the following week.