MOBILE, Alabama — It was 2009. Jon Halapio was a wide-eyed freshman on a team with national title aspirations. The Gators fell short of hoisting a second consecutive crystal ball but ended the season with a convincing win in New Orleans and were crowned Sugar Bowl Champions.
Halapio earned a medical redshirt that season after appearing in just three games. He wouldn’t miss another game due to injury for three years, playing in 12-of-13 games as a redshirt freshman before starting every game at right guard his redshirt sophomore and junior seasons, the only player on the offensive line to start at one position during that time.
Halapio was on track to extend his iron man streak when a freak weight lifting accident in the early fall sidelined him the first two weeks of the season. Just the thought of missing a game had him tossing and turning the night before the Gators kicked off against the Rockets of Toledo.
“It was hard, it was really hard,” he said of realizing he wouldn’t be able to play. “I actually didn’t get to sleep the night before because I realized that I wasn’t playing the season opener against Toledo. It was hard but everything happens for a reason.”
Halapio is strong — most 300-pound offensive linemen are — but he’s different a different type of strong. There is weight room strong and then there is the kind of strength that allows a player to strap on a brace that limits range of motion to protect a torn pectoral muscle in order to play through the pain of a torn pectoral muscle. For Halapio, it was an easy choice — either play in pain at 80% or sit.
Sitting was not an option.
The torn pec wasn’t the only problem, either. In his first game back, Halapio was was poked in the eye, which caused it to swell shut. Just a minor difficulty. He returned to play in the game armed with a new face mask and visor, which he wore the rest of the season.
Florida’s 4-8 season was not the storybook ending that Halapio envisioned when he signed with the Gators. He came expecting to compete for national titles and finished on a 4-8 team that missed out on a bowl game. The invitation to play in the Senior Bowl offered a bit of consolation and an opportunity to show what he can do in front of the scouts when he’s 100% healthy.
Halapio has worked tirelessly to get his pectoral muscle back to full strength and that’s one of the first questions asked by each team he speaks to in Mobile.
“I’m pretty sure very team asked about my pec,” he said. “Just because they noticed that on film, from a film standpoint, my punch or me locking on to a guy wasn’t the same as it was in 2012.”
This week he’ll be under the tutelage of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ coaching staff. He will have a week full of practices to show them, as well as other scouts, coaches and general managers that he would be a worthy addition to every football team in the NFL.
He doesn’t have to impress them all, just one. That’s all it takes. Find one team out of 32 that believes in you. If he practices like he played during his time at Florida he will do that this week at the Senior Bowl and have a chance to move on to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Of course, the ultimate goal is to hear his name called out in May during the NFL Draft.
The first step in winning over one team is to show them that he’s healthy. Getting healthy and proving that to scouts has been priority number one for Halapio.
Playing in the NFL is his dream. He’ll soon realize that lifelong dream and he’s ready to take the first big step in that process this week at the Senior Bowl.