Quinn, Villanueva finalists for salute to service award

HOUSTON (AP) Falcons coach Dan Quinn and Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva are the finalists for the NFL's Salute to Service Award.

The winner of the honor, presented by USAA, the official military appreciation sponsor of the league, will be announced during NFL Honors the night before the Super Bowl. Both Quinn's and Villanueva's teams, of course, are still in the running to play in that game on Feb. 5.

Quinn and Villanueva were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community.

Last spring, Quinn hosted a ''Rookie Club Olympics'' for which he invited 100 military members from Fort Benning, Georgia to the Falcons' training facility to participate. He created the event as a way for NFL players and the military community to unite and work together as a team.

''The military represents team on the highest level,'' says Quinn, who in his second year as Atlanta's coach and has it hosting the NFC championship game Sunday against Green Bay. ''It's an honor to be up for this award that recognizes the standard of excellence set by our nation's military and encourages our community to give back and support service members and their families who serve our nation.''

Quinn also stages a military day at training camp and hosts 20 military members at each Falcons home game throughout the season. He also provided an opportunity for families of fallen soldiers with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to attend the Falcons' Salute to Service game on Nov. 27. All 63 families attending were given a VIP visit at practice and were provided a one-night hotel stay in Atlanta courtesy of Quinn. Each player wore the initials of a fallen hero on his helmet during the game and during practice; the families were given a replica helmet of that player with a personalized note in honor of their hero.

Last offseason, Quinn led four Falcons players on a weeklong USO tour through the Pacific.

Villanueva grew up as a military child, living in the United States and Europe, where he played high school football. He then attended West Point, where he was a tight end, and was commissioned in the Army in 2010.

Promoted to captain in 2014, Villanueva was deployed three times. He received the Bronze Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for heroism in combat.

Following receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, Villanueva attended the NFL combine in 2014 and eventually was signed to the Steelers' practice squad. He became a starter in 2015 and credits his military background with influencing his approach to football.

''Serving in the Army taught me valuable lessons about honor, sacrifice and commitment. I'm humbled to be considered for this award and to have the opportunity to continue to give back to the military family,'' he says.

During his time with the Steelers Villanueva has participated in several community events to honor fellow military personnel and veterans, including ''Heroes at Heinz Field'' this season. Villanueva and his teammates hosted a group of veterans who participated in football drills. He visited VA hospitals in Pittsburgh, spending time with patients and sharing experiences in the military.

Award sponsor USAA is a leading provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families. It will contribute $25,000 in the winner's honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches.

Last year's award recipient was Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Previous winners were Jared Allen (2014), John Harbaugh (2013), Charles Tillman (2012) and Bud Adams (2011).

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