He was just a three-star prospect coming out of St. Petersburg Catholic High School in 2009. Hardly the kind of prospect that moved the needle in a class filled with names like Gary Brown, Andre Debose, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, Dee Finley and Mike Gillislee.
He signed his letter of intent to play football at the University of Florida just weeks after the Gators had won their second national championship in three seasons. Florida was a powerhouse and some guy named Tim Tebow decided to spend another season in Gainesville.
Jon Halapio earned a medical redshirt his first year on campus after playing in three games. He watched form the sidelines and the Gators battled their way to a 12-0 record and a second consecutive appearance in the SEC Championship game. Florida would lose 32-13 but bounced back with a 51-24 win in the Sugar Bowl.
His freshman season ended with 13 wins and was surely a sign of things to come.
Things got better for that three-star player from St. Petersburg. He played in 12 games as a sophomore — earning seven starts. He quickly became Florida’s iron man — starting every game at right guard in 2010 and 2011.
His swan song season was derailed before it even had a chance to take the stage. Halapio tore his left pectoral muscle in what was described as a freak weight lifting accident. He missed the first two games of the season, snapping his team him 27-consecutive games played streak.
The struggles of the 2013 Florida Gators have been well documented. It certainly wasn’t what the coaches, fans, or the kid who watched Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and Riley Cooper carry the freshman version of Halapio’s Gators’ one game away form playing for back-to-back national championships.
“I never thought that my senior season would go like this, especially with four wins at this point,” Halapio said before the Florida State game. “I just experienced a lot here at this program and it’s just gonna make me as an individual stronger.”
A loss to Florida State ended his career at Florida but not his career as a football player.
Halapio received one of the best wake up calls he can remember last Tuesday with an opportunity of a lifetime.
“George Wynn, he’s the head of our football operations, actually called me in the middle of a nap,” Halapio told Gator Country. “And he told me I got an invitation in the mail for the Senior Bowl. I jumped up, I was so happy.”
It didn’t take long for Halapio to wake up.
“He asked me when I was going to come pick it up and I said, ‘I’m on the way right now. I’m in the car.’ That’s how fast I got into the car.”
Halapio accepted the invitation immediately when he arrived back home and just like that the next stage of his football life had begun, well almost.
Halapio has one exam left before he graduates next Saturday. Walking across the stage to receive his degree will be his final — and best — act as a Gator.
After graduating, it’s time for Halapio to go to work. The 320-pound iron man says he’s fully recovered from that torn pectoral muscle and that he has only the normal bumps and bruises that come from a long, grueling football season.
He’ll take some time off to let that massive body heal but in the meantime he’ll be searching for agents, many of whom have already begun contacting him.
“I’ve been getting a lot of messaging on Facebook and a lot of the other players who have played at Florida, their agents want to represent me too,” Halapio told Gator Country. “So they would get my number from them and text me, call me and leave me voicemails. It starts from there, from the interest part.
“Then it’s up to me. I just have to sit down with these agents along with my family, Coach Muschamp and everybody else and utilize the panel at our school to help me with that process.”
After picking an agent, he’ll turn his attention to the Senior Bowl. Without an extra bowl game, this will be Halapio’s last opportunity to show NFL scouts and coaches what he can do with the pads on and he is looking forward to the opportunity.
“I feel like, detailed wise in the pass-pro game. That’s pretty much my weakness as a football player,” he said. “And I feel like taking the week of coaching in from these NFL coaches will definitely enhance me in that area.”
One exam and a well-deserved walk across the stage in front of his peers at graduation are the final two tasks left for Halapio as a Gator. It’s been a long five years that culminated in one final trying season but Halapio believes that things will get better for the school that he gave the last five years of his life to.
“The future is very bright for Florida. We have a lot of talent on the team. I trust Coach Muschamp and Jeremy Foley will bring a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach that will take over and I have full confidence that everything will get turned around under Coach Muschamp.”
Defensive back Jaylen Watkins has also accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl which will be played on January 25, 2014, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.