Playing football in the NFL is the dream of every young boy who plays football. High school weeds some of those boys out and college continues that process but there is no more selective league to play in than the NFL.
In order to get to the pinnacle of the sport and realize your dream of playing a game professionally, you have to go through the underwear olympics in Indianapolis, Indiana and the NFL Combine.
Jon Halapio was invited to participate in the multi-day event. The invitation afforded him the opportunity to continue meeting with prospective employers as well as reconnect with his former Florida teammate Jonotthan Harrison. Halapio caught up with Gator Country to continue his journey to the draft and told us just what the experience at the combine was like.
What was the combine experience like? Was it what you expected? How prepared were you for everything?
“It was exhausting. I had no idea that the NFL Combine was going to be like that. My mindset coming in was, I didn’t think it was going to be harder than the Senior Bowl because at the Senior Bowl we had all those interviews and long days but we had practice too. At the combine it was more mentally draining than the Senior Bowl. It was just long days, like, the first day I came in we didn’t do anything. What they do is they bring in the west coast guys first, so they can get acclimated to the time change. The next day I was at the hospital from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. doing MRI’s X-Ray’s, going through medical history and all that.”
How does that work? Does each team want to have their own doctor examine you or do you just go to one doctor for all the tests?
“That’s the next day. The day after that you meet with all 32 teams’ doctors and just go over the previous day. They go over your x-rays and your MRI and if they have a question or if they’re not sure about something they’ll request another test to the NFL Combine. Then that is when, that day, you’ll have to go back to the hospital. The next day we had a 4 a.m. drug test. So that day I was up from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. just busy. I had the drug test, then breakfast and we started the medical exams with all 32 teams. I got requested to do another MRI, so I had to go back to the hospital until around 6.”
“After that you have to go back to this room that they call ‘the bullpen.’ You go in there and all 32 teams are represented, it was like a madhouse. A team would pull you to the side and interview you. You finish with them and you think you’re done but another team would be waiting for you and pull you to the side and do the whole thing over again. So pretty much that day I was up from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m.”
You had to take another MRI, was that just for your pectoral muscle?
“Yeah it was for my pec and I had one on my knee from my meniscus scope in 2013. I had that done about a year ago, before spring practice last year, right after the Sugar Bowl. “
What was more nerve-racking, the on the field tests or the off the field interviews?
“I would say all of the off-the-field stuff was more nerve-racking for me. The most nerve-racking experience of the whole entire NFL Combine was the formal interviews. Those are just 15 minutes but it’s the longest 15 minutes that you’ll ever experience.”
“You’re in a room with everyone from the head coach, the whole coaching staff, the GM, scouts, there’s like 15 people in the room. Sometimes they would have you in the middle of the room and they had a circle around you, sometimes they were all in front of you, just drilling you with questions. They had me draw plays on the board and a couple of teams even had film of me and wanted you to talk them through what’s going on and explain what happened in that play, whether it was something good or something you did wrong. That was the most nerve-racking for me. My agent did a good job preparing me for that, with mock interviews. We did a lot of extensive mock interviews and stuff.”
So each team had their own interview style? There wasn’t a uniform style for the formal interviews?
“Yeah, exactly. Everybody was different. There wasn’t one setup that was exactly the same.”
Any weird questions?
“No! I was surprised! I was waiting, trying to stay on my toes waiting for something like that. This time, it wasn’t really about getting to know me because they all had that chance at the Senior Bowl. The same scouts were pretty much just asking me about football. They wanted to know my intelligence on the field. They wanted me to label these defenses that they had waiting for me. They wanted to teach me their system and have me re-draw it and label it. A lot of it at the NFL Combine, from my experience, was more X’s and O’s talk, really.”
“Being at Florida, I had three offensive coordinators and three offensive line coaches. So I had to learn three different playbooks, three different schemes and sets of terminologies for blocking and three different ways for picking up defenses. I feel like having that in my back pocket helped me going through this whole NFL Combine process. It went really well, I think it worked out in my favor.”
Do you feel like going through that many coaches might have hurt you and the offensive line on the field at Florida, but ended up helping you in the long run, learning different schemes and being more versatile that way?
“Definitely. If we had a consistent and sustainable set of coaches every year during my five years there, we would have been a top, elite offense in the country. You know we had all the talent in the world that everybody keeps talking about. We just, for whatever reason, there is a learning deficiency and for whatever reason we just couldn’t hold it down. I feel like if we had some consistency, everything would have been repetitive through spring, through camp and the season.”
You would have had more time to fine tune technique rather than completely overhaul every season.
“Exactly. Every year or every two years I have to start from scratch. Impressing a new coach, earning a new spot, just little things like that. But at the end of my journey I feel like it really did help me. That’s the positive for me. To experience all that and to gain more knowledge.”
Was there one team, or a couple of teams that you felt like were showing you the most interest?
“Not really I felt like every team was showing the same interest. The thing at the combine was that all the teams had a poker face. Not only for me, I felt like they weren’t trying to show that they were all over a certain player. They showed everybody interest.
Coolest moment at the combine?
“It was definitely seeing all the head coaches there. Just seeing them walk in and out of the building and laughing with coaches from other teams. That was the coolest moment I had. Just seeing these people that you grow up watching on TV and you’re just so used to seeing them as celebrities and now they’re just hanging out right in front of you, joking around with other coaches and stuff. Meeting them as well, that was a cool experience.”
Best piece of swag you got?
“My favorite gear was from Nike, I like the Nike gear. Nothing against Under Armour, Nike just had better colors. The offensive linemen and tight ends had orange and green; it’s not the best color combination in the world. It looked like we were about to go hunting or something.”
“We went to the Nike suite and they hooked me up with a lot of stuff. They had all different types of colors and shoes and cleats. It was good.”
Plans until pro day
You’ve got one last test, pro day, what are your plans from now until March 17?
“Continue working on my upper body strength for the bench test. That’s the only thing I didn’t do at the NFL Combine and just fine-tuning my game. I’m sure we’re still going to have to do interviews so I just want to stay consistent, keep doing the mock interviews with my agent and study film every day so that X’s and O’s wise, when I’m on the chalk board, I can still speak well and just prove to them that I know football. I know what I’m talking about.”
What will you do physically at pro day?
“I’m not too sure yet. As of now, I plan on doing everything except my 40. I don’t see myself genetically getting any faster in these next two weeks and a half weeks. I still need to sit down and talk with my head trainer; he’s still in Indianapolis because he has some DB’s out there. When he comes back my agent and I will sit down with him and discuss what I need to do.”
Are you looking forward to getting a chance to get back out in The Swamp and workout?
“Definitely, definitely. It was a lot of fun working out with Harrison at the NFL Combine. He was right behind me, number-wise, because they order us alphabetically. That whole week we were together and it made the combine fun. I feel like it’s going to be the same kind of feeling in the Swamp. Also to see the coaches again and to see the fans, whoever comes out and supports us and to see my other teammates who stayed behind.”