Steelers add U.S. Army vet to practice squad

  • By F. Dale Lolley August 31, 2014
When the Steelers played at Philadelphia earlier in the preseason, Alejandro Villanueva was with the Eagles. On Sunday, the Steelers added the 6-9 Villanueva to their practice squad. - Associated Press

The Steelers on Sunday added nine players who were with them in training camp to their practice squad, including former California University wide receiver C.J. Goodwin.

For their 10th and final spot, they added a player who is accustomed to running a different kind of squad – one which carries rifles.

Pittsburgh signed former U.S. Army Ranger Captain Alejandro Villanueva to their practice squad, giving the veteran of three deployments in Afghanistan another shot at making it in the NFL.

Villanueva, a 6-9, 277-pound offensive lineman, was in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles but was released Aug. 23. The Steelers worked him out last week and liked what they saw of the 25-year-old who also spent a short stint with Cincinnati as a tight end in 2010 before his initial deployment and briefly with the Bears in 2012.

A 6-9 tight end? Why not? In his time on the football team at West Point, Villanueva played on the defensive line, started 12 games at left tackle in 2008 and led the team with 34 receptions for 522 yards and five touchdowns as a wide receiver in 2009.

Following his graduation and tryout with the Bengals, Villanueva, who attended high school in Belgium where his father was deployed with NATO, was deployed to Afghanistan as a second lietenant in the Infantry. He spent 12 months there and was awarded a Bronze Star, among other medals.

He later returned to the United States, but was deployed two more times to Afghanistan for a total of eight months, eventually earning the rank of captain.

“The four years I’ve had in the Army have been the best four years you could ask for,” Villanueva told earlier this year. “The guys I served with … above me and under me … were phenomenal guys. They were good experiences that made me the man I am today. But now, I see this as a win-win situation. Obviously, I’m trying to get to a team and contribute, But if I can’t, then I can’t wait to get back to the Army and serve in the same manner that I have.”

That will wait, at least for a while.

Goodwin, who played his final season of football for the Vulcans after transferring from Fairmont State, was signed by the Steelers in the spring after a workout following a recommendation from former Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount. Goodwin attended high school at Linsly in Wheeling, W.Va., with Blount’s sons and also worked at Blount’s home for troubled youths in Taylorstown.

Goodwin suffered a shoulder injury early in training camp and missed the team’s preseason opener. He was among the first cuts made by the team last week.

Also added to the practice squad were wide receiver Derek Moye, a Penn State product who spent the entire 2013 regular season on the Steelers’ active roster, cornerback Shaquille Richardson and tight end Rob Blanchflower. Richardson and Blanchflower were fifth- and seventh-round draft picks of the Steelers this year.

In addition, safety Ross Ventrone, defensive linemen Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, running back Josh Harris and lineabacker Howard Jones were re-signed.

Odds and end zones

The Steelers, off since last Thursday’s preseason finale against Carolina, return to practice today in preparation for their regular season oppener Sept. 7 at Heinz Field against Cleveland. … The Steelers opened as 6 1/2-point favorites over the Browns.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.


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