Everyone who has read Hot Air during football season knows that I’m a die-hard Pittsburgh Steeler fan, but I may find myself rooting for their cross-state rivals on occasion. Philadelphia Eagles fans may be best known for booing Santa, but they have a chance to cheer for a rookie who may end up teaching the veterans what it means to be a real warrior. Former West Point standout Alejandro Villanueva returned from his third tour of duty in Afghanistan to sign with the Eagles as a defensive lineman, and might even end up doing some work at tight end if he makes the team:

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed Alejandro Villanueva, a 6-foot-9 defensive lineman who spent the past four years as an active member of the United States Army and most recently served as a U.S. Army Ranger.

The Eagles announced the move Monday, saying in a news release that Villanueva signed a rookie free-agent contract.

The 277-pound Villanueva served three tours in Afghanistan. He was recently promoted to captain.

The New York Daily News also notes that the usual “warrior” analogies will sound sillier than usual if/when Villanueva takes the field:

Comparing football games to wars and battles — already an absurd analogy — will seem even sillier in Philadelphia this season. …

“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. “That’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to serve, I wanted to see combat. I was actually trying to get as many deployments as I could, and see it with different units. That’s where my mind and my heart was.”

The Eagles zeroed in on the 25-year-old when seeing him at a super regional combine in Detroit in March. Now a defensive end, Villanueva also played on the offensive line and at wide receiver with Army, leading the Black Knights in catches (34), yards (522) and touchdowns (5) as a senior.

He’s going in as a defensive end, but with the hands displayed in his senior year, one would have to imagine that the Eagles might want to put him on the offense, at least occasionally. At 6-9, he’d make a big target and would be almost impossible to defend. He’ll be fun to watch on either side of the line, though, and will cut an inspirational figure on the field — as well as provide some needed perspective to the game. Let’s hope he makes the cut for 2014, and kudos to the Eagles for giving Villanueva his opportunity.