It’s rare enough for a football player from a military academy to make the NFL. How about a captain and Bronze Star winner?

The remarkable story of Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an ex-Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, is being showcased in a new advertising campaign by USAA. The premiere of the 30-second commercial will be during this Sunday’s telecasts of games.

Also in the ad ( are Villanueva’s wife and young son. His transition from Army Ranger to NFL offensive lineman is depicted, focusing on protection — of both Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket (Villanueva’s current job), and insurance offered by USAA.

“USAA has been there by my side, and my family’s side, through all of it,” Villanueva says, “and I am proud to partner with a company that shows so much support for our country’s armed forces.”

There also is a 2-minute version highlighting how Villanueva earned his Bronze Star for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.

“Alejandro is a great example of the dedicated service and sacrifice that USAA members provide to our nation,” says retired Navy Vice Admiral John Bird, senior vice president of military affairs for USAA. “His background as a West Point graduate, Army Ranger, NFL lineman, husband and father is impressive and helps raise awareness of and appreciation for America’s military.”

DREW AND BOWEN: Few NFL players have embraced the availability of technology to aid their performances more than Drew Brees.

Now, the Saints quarterback and three other players, plus Brees’ 5-year-old son Bowen, appear in a Microsoft video showcasing how NFL players are using their Surface tablets not only on the field, but off it for training.

Bowen Brees also provides the vocals for a remixed version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” that plays throughout the video, before concluding with a touching moment with his dad.

“It’s always fun to have my family with me at work, and being able to shoot this commercial with Bowen was very special,” Brees says. “It was great watching (oldest son) Baylen coach Bowen and their interaction as Bowen prepared for his role.”

Also in the video are Rams running back Todd Gurley, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett.

SIGN HERE: Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler brags about his hometown of Bakersfield, California, every chance he gets. The city returned the love last week by posting a billboard on an interstate near the Browns’ training facility that said: “Cody Kessler, Good Luck from Bakersfield.” Kessler was unaware of the sign, but went to see it the moment he was told.

“I thought that was awesome,” he said. “That meant a lot to me. I actually saw a picture of it first. Someone sent it to me, and then I ran over there and went and saw it afterward. I’m very proud of where I came from and there are a lot of great people there that support me.”

Kessler said the city molded him into the person and player he is today.

“My dad and my mom both worked really hard and I learned from them,” he said. “I got to watch my dad really coach me in football and did not know a whole lot about quarterback, but he did everything he could to help me out and get me to different camps and stuff.

“I take a lot of pride in coming from Bakersfield.”

SIEMIAN’S START: Trevor Siemian is 3-0 as Denver’s starter and is coming off a historic performance in Cincinnati, where he became the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in his first road start.

Siemian was the 250th overall draft pick last year, and this weekend he’ll face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are led by QB Jameis Winston, the third No. 1 overall pick he’s seen in the season’s first month.

Siemian outperformed Cam Newton in the opener and Andrew Luck in Week 2. Last week, he outdid Andy Dalton, a second-round pick and two-time Pro Bowler.

“Opening day, he shocked everybody, and he’s been rolling ever since,” says Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “I’m happy for him. I read a little bit and heard a little bit about his story, so I’m happy for him. We’re going to have a tough one on our hands on Sunday.”

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has had No. 1 overall picks and seen late-rounders blossom over his coaching career.

“You’ve got to be right on those guys early and it’s sure fun to be right on those guys late that you think have a chance,” said Kubiak. “But you’ve got to give the kid the credit he’s the one that’s done all the work.”


SMARTER FOOTBALL: Six high schools and four youth organizations have received $10,000 in equipment upgrades from Riddell. The helmet manufacturer’s Smarter Football initiative recognizes such football programs throughout the United States and Canada for their commitment to implementing safer and smarter playing techniques, whether in practice or for games.

All youth, secondary and college programs were eligible to apply for a Smarter Football grant. The winning high schools are:

Brimley, Michigan; Max Vista, Imperial Beach, California; Nicholas Senn, Chicago; Tenino, Washington; Waggener, Louisville, Kentucky; and St. Benedict, Cambridge, Ontario.

Youth organization winners are:

Bay Saints, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi; Gum Springs Youth Athletic Association, Alexandria, Virginia; Hobe Sound Ravens Youth Organization, Hobe Sound, Florida; and Who Dat Warriors Youth Organization, Indianapolis.

The size of each high school’s rosters ranges from 100 at Mar Vista for its varsity, JV and freshman squads, to 40 for the varsity at Tenino and at St. Benedict.

Hobe Sound has 210 players ages 5-15, the most of the four youth organizations awarded the prize.


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