IF ANYBODY at last month's Super Regional Combine in Detroit deserved to be signed, it was Alejandro Villaneuva.
Villaneuva, 6-9, 277, hasn't earned any football honors the past four seasons, since playing wide receiver for Army in 2009, but he has accumulated the Bronze Star for valor (pulling wounded soldiers to safety while under fire), the Ranger tab, the Parachutist badge, the National Defense Service medal, the Afghanistan campaign medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism service ribbon, the Army service ribbon, an overseas service ribbon, NATO medal, Combat Infantryman's badge and Expert Infantryman's badge.
So Villaneuva, 25, has been busy, during three tours of Afghanistan. He was promoted to captain earlier this month, but Villaneuva will leave the Army after signing with the Eagles yesterday as an undrafted rookie free agent. Villanueva was an offensive and defensive lineman at Army before playing wide receiver; the Eagles said he will play defensive line for them.
"This opportunity, obviously it's something I've worked pretty hard for," Villanueva told the Eagles' website. "Going through the Regional and Super Regional Combine . . . has been truly a blessing. To get a look from the Eagles and be invited to come here and a work out and ultimately be able to sign, I'm very blessed and feel very fortunate for this opportunity. I don't want to disappoint anybody and will work as hard as I can and give it my best shot."
"I went [to the Regional Combine] without an agent," Villanueva told the website. "It was a situation where I got back from my deployment and had this opportunity come up. I wasn't really in shape, to be honest, but I thought there was maybe potential to get me to the Super Regional and buy a little more time to work out. Once I completed the Regional in Atlanta, I was invited to the Super Regional, where I was able to perform in front of NFL scouts, and that's when the Eagles took a look at me . . . I had a lot of phone calls from teams [after the Super Regional], asking me about my ability to get out of the Army and play football. I didn't really keep track of which teams called, but the Eagles showed the most interest and that's ultimately why I ended up here."
Villanueva indicated that the fighting he saw during his first deployment changed his perspective on life. He said combat "gives you a very close look at death, and so you really, truly appreciate the smaller things and try to take all the steps in the right direction in life, because you know what's at the end, essentially.
"Before I deployed for the first time, I thought I was going to live forever. You think you're indestructible, but when you have those experiences, you start seeing how vulnerable your life is and how quickly everything can end."
Of course, not having played since 2009, Villanueva might be a longshot to make the team, but it's hard to fault the Birds for giving him a chance. And Chip Kelly likes his big-guy projects, as the roster presence of wideout Ifeanyi Momah (6-7, 239) and offensive lineman Michael Bamiro (6-8, 340) might suggest.
Before going to West Point, Villanueva played high school basketball and football in Belgium, where his father, Ignacio, worked for the United Nations. He was born in Meridian, Miss.