When Jonotthan Harrison took over the starting center role for Florida midway through the Gators’ spring football practice, starting right guard Jon Halapio had a roommate he could look to for support on the interior of the line.
Midway through fall camp last week, Halapio had another roommate join the starting unit when Kyle Koehne took over at left guard.
“They were real excited, especially for us three to be the core right now,” Koehne said, when asked how the two responded to his recent move to the starting role. “We’re pretty much all the same people. We hang out 24/7 for two and a half years or however long it’s been now. We’re great friends.”
The three redshirt sophomores are seemingly attached at the hips.
When you see Koehne wandering around Gainesville, Harrison isn’t far behind. When you see Harrison, you can usually look over his shoulder and see Halapio’s bushy ponytail bouncing around.
Now that the three are all starting next to each other on the line, they’re doing everything they can to make sure they stay just as close as they’ve gotten the past few years.
“It helps a lot because we’re all roommates, we live together, me and Harrison and Kyle,” Halapio said. “When we go back home, we even sit on the couch and watch film on the 60-inch (TV).”
The trio of third year players is relatively new to playing big-time college football.
They’ve now been around for a full two seasons, but they’ve combined for just eight starts in 41 appearances, with Halapio earning seven of the starts in 2010.
Because of the relative youth of the group, Halapio has been able to give his two roommates some pointers on how his redshirt freshman season as an on-and-off starter for Florida went.
“I always tell them get in the film room, watching film a lot,” Halapio said. “I came in knowing I was going to start because of the depth and what we were going through last year. I knew I was going to start, and I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have.”
Halapio admitted he didn’t have the focus he should have in 2010, and that was part of the reason Florida fell well below expectations on the offensive line.
At the beginning of the year, Halapio frequently missed assignments and didn’t seem to know which players he was supposed to block.
It wasn’t all his fault, though. He said part of it was a lack of communication between him and a veteran offensive line that already knew each other pretty well.
“I feel like last year, (Mike) Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, they all had games under their belt,” Halapio said. “Then they had like me, Xavier Nixon, we weren’t really experienced. So I think we weren’t all on the same page. Now we’re all on the same page, we’re all into it.”
Halapio expanded on exactly what some of the problems were in 2010. It really just boiled down to communication.
“Last year, the veterans knew what was going to come,” he said. “If I was on the offensive line, I didn’t know anything was coming, so they weren’t really communicating with me.”
Now that the redshirt sophomore is playing with two of his roommates, communication has been a lot easier.
He’s helped them learn the new offense, and they’ve pointed out things to him to work on. The benefit of having three guys who already have great chemistry has been apparent to Halapio, especially given the fact that all three are working to learn a new offense.
“The chemistry is a lot better,” Halapio said, after rating the current unit’s chemistry at about a seven on a scale of 1-10. “We communicate a lot better on the field, so it’s good that we’re good friends off the field.”
As far as Koehne’s addition to the starting offensive line, Halapio has seen some things from his roommate that have helped him get there.
Those same things could help Koehne keep his current edge over sophomore Ian Silberman at left guard in a tight battle leading up to the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 3.
“[Koehne’s] a real technician kind of guy, so he’s had a real good camp,” Halapio said. “He has a few plays where he’s killing guys. He really knows what to do on the field, and you can clearly see that on film.”
Koehne said the Florida coaches began noticing the same things about his technique in the film sessions, and he thinks it’s what helped him earn the starting job.
“When we grade our film every day, you want to look at multiple things: technique, result, finish, if the person hit on ball,” Koehne said. “As time went on, I think coaches started noticing that my grades were getting better and better in all aspects.”
Still, the 6-foot-5, 302-pounder had been working at left tackle behind Nixon. It wasn’t until midway through practice last week that Florida’s coaches gave him a shot inside.
“It was during the middle of camp,” Koehne said. “Numbers were low, so they just put me where I was needed and they liked how I was performing.”
Koehne came in and played well, enough for head coach Will Muschamp to tab him the starter and praise his play as one of the top five players on the line.
“It was a great feeling,” Koehne said. “It was the first time I’ve heard that, and it made my family proud. It was a great thing to hear.”
The move to starting left guard might have caught Koehne by surprise, but he his transition back inside has gone well.
“If you haven’t followed me at Florida at all, I’ve kind of been at every position, so I’m pretty natural at it,” he said. “I can go left side, right side, guard or tackle. Last year I was mostly a swing right- and left-side guard, so it hasn’t been a big change for me.”
Koehne said Halapio has been “a good mentor” for him, and all three of the roommates on the interior of the line have helped each other out throughout the summer and fall camp.
They want to make sure they’re as cohesive a unit on the field as they are off it, even if it means studying the playbook, learning the offense and watching film together late at night.
“I bring my playbook home with me every night,” Koehne said. “Then even with Jon Harrison, Halapio, we talk about stuff all the time. We prepare as much as we can and try to prepare ourselves for as many unnatural looks or as much as possible for everything for the physical standpoint and the mental standpoint of the game.”
Koehne and Harrison mostly watched from the sideline as Florida’s offensive line struggled through last season. Halapio was there firsthand for a lot of the poor play.
All three want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We all talk about it all the time, how we don’t want to repeat what we did last year,” Halapio said. “I’m not saying we were horrible. But the goal is to be the number one offensive line in America.”
That means not being content with where they’re at or taking too long to enjoy the fact that all three roommates and close friends have the opportunity to play alongside each other on the line.
So far, so good, Halapio said.
“Right now, we’re real good. We’re communicating on the line a lot better. We’re playing better, but there’s still stuff that we’ve got to clean up.”
Halapio and the Florida trio are looking at the 2011 season as a fresh start. It’s the beginning of a new era in Florida football.
“I think because we’re all starting pretty much new – new system, new everything, new year – everybody is just coming in this thing trying to prove something.”