The Florida Gators were banged up at the start of the 2013 season and though most were concerned about the health of the incumbent quarterback and new starting running back, arguably a better player – redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio – also remained sidelined and out of commission with his return date in question.
Halapio, a future NFL Draft selection who tore the pectoral muscle in his left shoulder while max bench pressing over the summer shortly after the 2013 SEC Media Days, has not yet played a down of football in 2013.
He was ruled out until the fourth week of the season before the opening game and did not return to practice until last Monday at the start of Florida’s first bye week of the year.
“The biggest thing last week was that was my first week back with the team doing actual stuff, so my endurance wasn’t as up to par as it used to be,” he said Wednesday. “Having that bye week and this week [to practice] really benefited me.”
Redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison thinks it may take his teammate some time to get back into the swing of things when he lines up on Saturday.
“He might just have to knock the rust off the hinges a little bit but knowledge-wise his confidence is there. It’s just the physical part. Of course he’s missed a little bit of football now, so there’s just going to be that little acclimation period almost,” Harrison said.
Halapio has spent the last few weeks resting and receiving treatment on his pectoral. He even had an injection into the muscle with the hopes that it sped up the healing process. During games, he attempted to be an extra coach from the sideline, one who could give his fellow offensive linemen a different perspective of what was happening.
“It’s always tough to watch on the sidelines when [you’re] not playing,” he said.
Though he is deemed healthy enough to play, Halapio is not out of the woods just yet, according to doctors and the team’s athletic trainers.
“They said that, just because the time period it happened, that I don’t have that much time for me to develop the strength that I have that it can tear off again,” he explained. “Whether if it was going to be 50 percent intact or 100 percent intact, it’s still going to be weak so it can still tear at any time. So they told me that’s the downside of it.”
He will also have to get used to playing in a brace that he described as a device with sleeves that straps his shoulder across his body so he cannot tear the pectoral muscle during a game. Though the brace should prevent his arm from going too far back, he does not think it will slow him down one bit.
“The brace helps really well. Practicing last week and this week was a confidence booster for me, so I don’t have no concerns about tearing my pec [again],” he said. “The only thing that really bothers [me] is if I get back too far, that strength hasn’t been developed yet. But as far as stabilization and strength and stuff like that, I’ve been feeling really good.”
Halapio’s teammates are equally excited to see him on the field.
“It means a lot,” Harrison said on Tuesday. “He really was an asset to the offensive line. We missed him a lot, and we’re glad to have him back. He’s such a powerhouse.”
Echoed junior fullback Hunter Joyer: “It’s tremendous. He’s one of the guys we look to on offense, throughout the whole offense.
“He’s a leader on the line. The other guys on the line look up to him and we kind of need him out there. It will be nice to have him back.”
For a player with 38 collegiate games – and 33 starts – under his belt, it should only take Halapio a few snaps to feel comfortable on Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium against the Tennessee Volunteers. The knowledge that this is the official start of his final season with the Gators may be more difficult to handle.
“I’m real anxious. Sitting out the last two games was the longest two weeks of my life,” he said. “Just coming out this weekend is going to be very nerve-wracking knowing that this is my last first game. It should be fun.”