Two Florida Gators offensive starters – sophomore running back Matt Jones and redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio – will not be cleared to play in the team’s season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31, and in Halapio’s case, may not return until the fourth week of the 2013 season, head coach Will Muschamp announced on Friday.
Jones, who has done nothing but cardiovascular exercise during fall practice after being stricken with a serious viral infection over the summer, has long been expected to miss game action as he continues to get back into football shape. Muschamp confirmed Friday that Jones would be held out of the Toledo game and indicated that he could miss additional time if deemed unfit to return to the field by team doctors.
“He will be out for Toledo. He’s questionable from there on out, but he’s doing very well,” Muschamp said. “He’s really progressing well. They’re putting more on him each day as far as physical activity, as far as running and lifting and all of the different things. I’ve been very pleased with how he’s progressed.”
Though Jones “seems fine” and is recovered from his illness, Muschamp related that the trainers want to ensure the player’s immune system is back to 100 percent or else he could relapse if he physically exerts himself too much too early. Jones is set to undergo another round of comprehensive blood tests on Monday.
“They feel like he could have some sort of relapse if you tax him too much early, is basically what they’ve told me,” he said. I’m just doing whatever they tell me that he can do as far as our strength staff is concerned, as far as running and those things are concerned. They want to make sure his immune system is up and he can handle any of those things. Any time you have a serious viral infection, which is what he had, his immune system has battled down a little bit. So that’s what they’re handling right now.”
Redshirt junior Mack Brown will step in for Jones while he is sidelined, though it is expected that the Gators will run the ball by committee with sophomore Mark Herndon and redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers also sharing the carries.
Halapio, a projected second-day draft selection and unanimous preseason All-SEC Second Team member, partially tore a pectoral muscle while working out in mid-July.
Though the injury did not require surgery, hope was that he would be able to return to practice on Aug. 12. That day, Muschamp announced Halapio would be out an additional 7-10 days. Four days later, on Aug. 16, Muschamp said he hoped to get Halapio cleared for game week.
As of Monday, Muschamp believed Halapio was on his way back for the season opener.
“Right now, everything has gone extremely well [with his recovery],” he said. “They feel like the cavity has filled in where the pec was torn. They feel good about it, but I won’t know more until Friday.”
That is no longer the case as Halapio will miss the Toledo game and is not expected to return until the fourth week of the 2013 season when Florida hosts Tennessee on Sept. 21 or “possibly before that” if the injury somehow heals faster over the next few weeks.
“Jon Halapio, right now, I project for Tennessee,” Muschamp said. “His pec is filling in, and we feel pretty comfortable with where he is. Certainly being his senior year, we don’t want to push it with him. I would safely project for Tennessee, possibly before that. I would certainly say Tennessee.”
Redshirt sophomore transfer Tyler Moore, a versatile player who has worked out at almost every position along the line, will replace Halapio with the first-team offensive line. Redshirt senior Kyle Koehne, another lineman who can play all five positions, will likely assist at right guard as well.
Jones and Halapio will not be the only starters on the sideline without helmets as Gators sophomore Mike linebacker Antonio Morrison will be serving a two-game suspension during the Toledo and Miami games on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7, respectively.