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Star spangled tryout

Army's Alejandro Villanueva(AP photo)

Alejandro Villanueva knows it is a longshot.

How many 6-9 Army tight ends have you seen in the NFL?

He is one of 25 college players trying out for the Bengals and none of them may get a contract. Maybe there'll be two or three. Maybe.

But no matter what happens, they should put his No. 86 tryout jersey in the Pro Shop. If you're a fan, he should become one of your favorite Bengals. If you're not, you'll be a fan of his in the next five minutes even if these are his only five practices as a Bengal.  

Even if the Bengals did sign him, he's got another schedule ahead of theirs. And the opener is early next year in Afghanistan.

He is sitting on a locker room stool after Friday morning's practice, stands up, says "Yes sir," and when you tell him you should be standing up for him, he tells you what is next.

Ranger school after a graduation ceremony featuring the President of the United States. Then early next year he is scheduled to be a second lieutenant and platoon leader. The Tenth Mountain Division patrolling the world's hottest spot. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

An NFL scrimmage line would be nice, but no matter what happens Villanueva's career goal is to be a company commander. Even if there was a contract, he couldn't play for two years because the Army commitment comes first. But it doesn't bother him that makes football even more of a longshot.

"That's why I went to West Point. To serve my country. To protect freedom," Villanueva said. "I don't regret that I could have gone to a civilian school. I'm proud and happy with the choice that I made."

He is a first-generation American who has grown up all over Europe. His father was born in Spain and became a career officer in the U.S. Navy and is now a commander. His son was born in Meridian, Miss., but went to high school on an American military base.

"I played all sports. I was a swimmer, rugby," Villanueva said. "I didn't play much football. I played my last two years in high school. I didn't play much, but I did get interest. Boston College. The Big Ten. They're always looking for big guys."

But he has played just enough to love it. Just enough that he can't get enough.

"Every football player has a hope he might do something," he said. "I don't know all the policies. What could be in, what could be on. I love the game. And for a football player to hang up the cleats is really tough. To get a chance to be out here with the boys and play some football, I can't say no to that."

How can you say no to a guy like Villanueva?

Here's a guy who desperately wants to get with a Ranger battalion group, the decathlon athletes of the infantry. Here's a guy who has spent the last few weeks training for the infantry saddled with long marches and weights on his back in the rain and the cold only an upstate New York spring can provide.

"Honestly sir, I was very surprised," he said of the call that came from the Bengals. "It caught me off guard."

But he relishes the call to guard. Asked if he's nervous, he shows no nerves. In the world of West Point, it is simply the way.

"Everybody is doing it at our school," he said. "All my teachers have had three, four deployments. Especially with the long wars going on. There are soldiers that have been deployed seven times already."

Maybe Saturday and Sunday are his last snaps. Maybe not.

"No matter what," he said. "I'm going to make the army my career. I'd go back."

Are you his fan yet?

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