Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle, Villanueva reflects fondly on his youth, primarily in Rota, Spain, where his father was a Spanish Naval Officer. “Fitness was a huge part of what we did every day.” Villanueva went on to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and join the Army as a second lieutenant in the infantry, before being awarded a Bronze Star Medal and eventually undergoing the necessary training to join the 1st Ranger Battalion.
“A lot of players have causes and areas they can influence,” he says. “For me, military kids is one of those really cool causes. I sometimes feel like they get neglected; a lot of attention goes to the actual service member for their sacrifices. People can forget the service members have families they leave behind and they sacrifice a lot to accommodate their parent’s profession. I can identify with that since I was always on military bases growing up.”
Like Villanueva, Gano, placekicker for the Carolina Panthers, also grew up with a father in the Navy. “Growing up I bounced all over the world and being on base, sports were a big part of my life,” Gano reflects. “When the opportunity arose to help out with the ProCamps in my hometown of Pensacola, Fla., it was a no brainer for me to do this and give back to the military community.
“I think it’s great we’re able to do things like this to give back to military kids,” Gano, now in his second year of camps, continues. “Last year it was a whole lot of fun. It was really hot, but I had such a blast running around with the kids and seeing the joy they had, running around, playing and learning more about the game of football.”
Having an Army father, Carolina Panthers running back Stewart knows firsthand the challenges of being a military kid. “I know it’s hard traveling and not being in one place for a long time and having to make new connections,” he says.
“But just because you’re in that situation doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish. It doesn’t mean your dreams are in a box. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but one thing I know for sure is that God gave them the potential in life and the kids need to make sure to take advantage of it.”
Roberts, a wide receiver and return specialist for the Detroit Lions, encourages military kids to have fun. Both of Roberts’ parents served in the military, and he attended The Citadel. “Set goals, and work hard to achieve those goals,” he says. “Those all are good things, but don’t forget to have fun along the way. I sometimes have to be reminded of that myself. Doing these camps and seeing the kids reminds me how much fun football really is.”
Roberts says he isn’t one of those guys who only puts his name on the flier. “I actually enjoy the chance to work with the kids and give them something to be excited about,” he says.