Jon Halapio was Florida’s iron man. His streak of 27-consecutive games started may not have looked as impressive as Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games played but there is something to be said about being able to start that many games consecutively while playing offensive line in the SEC.
Halapio’s streak was snapped before his senior season even got off the ground when he tore a pectoral muscle while maxing out on the bench press this offseason. For the first time in more than two years, Halapio was forced to watch from the sidelines while his brother-in-arms played without him.
“We were doing max-out benching one day and I came down and basically ripped my pec,” Halapio said. “It’s always tough to watch from the sidelines, not playing first and foremost. And it’s always tough watching on the sidelines when we’re struggling like that offensively.”
It’s not the way any player wants to start a season but it’s an especially difficult way to begin your senior season. Halapio has done everything in his power to return to the team as quickly as possible and even though he isn’t 100%, he is determined to return to the sidelines this weekend against Tennessee.
“They said that just because of the time period it happened, that I don’t have that much time for me to develop the strength that I have, that it can tear off again,” Halapio said about the possibility of re-injuring his pectoral. “Whether if it was going to be 50 percent intact, or 100 percent intact, it’s still going to be weak, so it could still tear at any time. So they’re telling me that that’s the down side of it.
To prevent from re-injuring the muscle, Halapio will wear a brace that limits the mobility in his arm. Halapio said that he has grown used to wearing the brace; the mobility he is losing will prevent his arm from bending backwards and too far away from his body so he doesn’t see it as a hindrance to his ability to block and keep people in front of him.
“It’s like an upper body brace, I’d say it’s like a sleeve kind of thing. I put it on and then I have two straps that pull my shoulder across my body so my posture is like this,” Halapio said as he tucked his elbows in and extended his hands out in blocking posture. “So it prevents me from going all the way out here [shoulder moving out behind his body], and stuff like that, and from tearing it in the game.”
Matt Jones returned to the field last week after a stomach illness had sidelined him for fall camp and the season opener. Jones visibly wasn’t himself against Miami and he admitted that it took him a couple of quarters to really knock the rust off and to start feeling normal again on the field. Halapio believes he will have a similar adjustment period and knows that you can’t replicate game day intensity on the practice field.
“Definitely. Being in practice and being in games is two different things,” Halapio said. “It’s just something I’ve got to get used to. It’s an acclimation period. I’ve got to knock the rust off and get back in the swing of things real fast.”
After a lackluster performance from the offensive line against Miami, Florida will need Halapio to knock the rust off quickly against a Tennessee team that will be looking to knock off and upset the Gators for the first time since 2004.
Halapio is a leader not just among his position group, but for the entire team and having him suited back up this week should give the Gators both an emotional lift and a lift in production at right guard. Halapio is anxious to get his senior season started and to get Florida back on track.
“I’m real anxious. Sitting out the last two games was really long. It was the longest two weeks of my life,” Halapio said. “Just coming out this weekend is going to nerve-wracking knowing that it’s my first last game. It should be fun.”