New Ravens tackle Alejandro Villanueva thought he would just use NFL to pay for school

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New Ravens tackle initially planned to go to business school originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

When Anthony Villanueva returned from serving three tours in Afghanistan as an Army captain, his plan was to try and use the NFL to finance the next chapter of his life. Instead, Villanueva has molded himself into a two-time Pro Bowler and now the Ravens' answer at right tackle

"When you have to find a way forward, it's not like I had a lot of options," Villanueva said during his introductory press conference with the Ravens on Wednesday. "So the NFL was kind of like 'American Idol' and if I released one hit song I can pay for business school and then I can maybe find something in business school that can give me a new identity."

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Villanueva got his metaphorical Hollywood ticket with the Steelers and turned that into much more than a one-hit wonder career. A Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018 at left tackle, Villanueva played an integral role on the Steelers' offensive line for the last six seasons at left tackle. When Pittsburgh let him know they wouldn't be renewing his contract before the end of last season, Baltimore emerged with a need once Orlando Brown Jr. wanted out. 

It's a remarkable story of Villanueva's journey considering his mindset when first trying to make a roster in 2014. 

"I thought that if I played one year in the NFL, even if I just fooled some of the coaches that are infatuated with the military, I was able to play for one year that I'd be able to pay for business school," Villanueva said. "And so when the opportunity came up with Pittsburgh, my plan was to play for one year and get out to go to one of the top business school programs and move on with my life."

It turned out the Steelers made that transition not only possible but convenient too. Villanueva had the luxury of playing for Pittsburgh and taking business classes at one of the nation's top business schools, Carnegie Mellon University.

Still, without the means to pay out of pocket for those classes, Villanueva had hoped he could put a season's wages with the Steelers toward his new path forward in the business world. Villanueva's 6-foot-9, 320-pound mobile frame made him a valuable asset, and he hasn't needed to go the business route yet. 

After four years at West Point where he played four positions, Villanueva's adaptability was never in question. Recruited as a tight end before playing defensive end/special teams his freshman season, Villanueva switched to tackle and then wide receiver. This season, he'll make a much less taxing transition from left tackle to right. 

No matter where the coaches put him, Villanueva said he's happy to be playing the game that's given him so much. 

"I've always been very thankful for the game of football, I've always tried to play with a passion and play it not taking it for granted," Villanueva said. "I've learned basically everything since I got here in 2006 through the game of football, so rediscovering the passion is never something I had to go through. It's always been pretty clear to me that this game that only gets played for the majority in the United States has given me a path to fully feel American."