Alejandro Villanueva has spent plenty of time both deployed in theater and on the gridiron.
As a former professional football player and Army Ranger, he knows what rigorous training looks like, whether it’s preparing for military operations or primetime games. And, according to Villanueva, they aren’t all that different.
“It is very obvious when you join a football team, and you see the drills, that it looks a lot like basic training,” he said in a SOFCAST podcast interview. “The NFL has an incredible admiration for the military.”
The offensive tackle attended West Point and played football for the Black Knights until 2010 before fulfilling his service commitment and serving three tours in Afghanistan. During one deployment, Villanueva earned a Bronze Star with a “V” device for rescuing wounded soldiers while taking heavy enemy fire.
Villanueva went on to play in the NFL for seven years after getting out of the Army, six of which were with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“The origins of football stemmed from men at Harvard and Yale trying to increase their manhood by battling each other with strategy and honor and camaraderie and whatnot,” he added.
While strategizing in football is part of a game, Villanueva noted that both the sport and military training offer instructions on how to keep on the offensive without going too far. Ultimately, he said, there are lessons of how to harness and channel rage.
“You’re just pitted against each other,” he said. “[Coaches and instructors are] trying to develop the inner anger. They’re trying to develop things in you that are mean because you have to be mean and this is controlled aggression.”
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.