Alejandro Villanueva goes up for a reception during the 2009 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. Villanueva has signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He deployed to Afghanistan, where he earned a Bronze Star with 'V.' (Drew Hallowell / Getty Images/)
A 6-foot-9 Army officer with three deployments to Afghanistan, a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device and a Ranger tab has signed a free-agent contract to join the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive lineman.
Alejandro Villanueva, who was recently promoted to captain, resigned his commission on Friday, according to Tracy Bailey, a spokeswoman with the 75th Ranger Regiment. The Eagles announced his signing in a Monday news release.
Villanueva graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2010 after being recruited as a defensive end despite playing football for only two years at SHAPE American High School in Belgium.
He would instead earn a starting job with the Black Knights as an offensive tackle before slimming down, speeding up and leading the team with 34 catches and 522 receiving yards as a wideout as a senior.
Invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game, he changed positions yet again, this time playing tight end. His performance led to a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals; he didn’t get signed, but Villanueva said he didn’t plan on straying from his original career path in the first place.
“As soon as I graduated, especially with all my classmates at West Point who were all going to serve, my mind and my heart were going to Afghanistan,” Villanueva told NFL.com in a piece about the Super Regional Combine, where the former Ranger worked out April 12-13 in front of NFL scouts.
It’s the same path taken to the big leagues by linebacker Josh McNary, who graduated from West Point in 2011, then inked a free-agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts after the 2013 Super Regional Combine.
Villanueva did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
Defense Department rules allow West Point graduates who sign with NFL teams — or participate in other pro sports — to avoid their five-year active-duty service commitment by becoming a reservist and reimbursing their service academy for a portion of their education costs. Bailey referred questions on Villanueva’s service requirement to Army Public Affairs, who did not return an immediate request for comment.
Villanueva’s first deployment to Afghanistan came as a rifle platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division, according to the Army. He was there for a year, earning a Bronze Star with “V” for valor after advancing under enemy fire to reach wounded soldiers under his command.
He made two more deployments for a total of eight months.
In addition to the Bronze Star with “V” and Ranger tab, he also holds a Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, a Parachutist Badge, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge, along with other awards and honors, according to service information provided by the Army.
The signing gives the 277-pounder about a week’s head start on the rest of the incoming 2014 NFL class — the league’s draft begins Thursday night and runs through the weekend, with a flurry of free-agent signings coming thereafter. The Eagles’ first organized offseason workouts will be May 27.