The man who appears to have the inside track to be the New York Giants’ starting center this season was selling used cars and working out with a high school team less than two years ago, and has Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Mike Alstott to thank for his revival.
Yes, you read that right.
Who is Jon Halapio?
Jon Halapio entered the NFL as a 2014 sixth-round draft pick of the New England Patriots. Back then he was a guard, who had started 43 of 51 games with the University of Florida and was a two-time team captain.
But Halapio didn’t even make it to the regular season with the Patriots, cut out of camp. He didn’t immediately get another NFL chance after he was released, so he turned to the Fall Experimental Football League, which was in its first season and had hopes of becoming an NFL minor league/feeder system.
In a Bleacher Report profile by David Gardner, Halapio notes the startup league (it folded after 2015) offered decent competition but was really light on necessities like meals and snacks.
After a couple of months, he got another NFL chance, with the Denver Broncos, and spent early 2015 with them; released in May, Halapio was signed by the Cardinals in June, spending the preseason there before a September release.
When his phone didn’t ring again and with a young family to care for – he has a wife and two children – Halapio began looking for a job. Grant Bond, a fellow Florida alum who owned a used car dealership and rental car company, hired him after an interview.
Bond says being a nice guy who’s also really big (the Giants list him at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds) helped Halapio. Halapio balked at the idea he was a good salesman.
But the St. Petersburg, Fla. native wasn’t ready to give up on the NFL and woke up before the sun for 90-minute workouts before heading to the car dealership and did a second cardio workout after dinner with his family.
In late spring 2016, Halapio began working out at Northside Christian High School under the punishing eye of its new head coach, Mike Alstott.
Adding snapping, changing agents
Alstott knew Halapio’s family – he’d coached Halapio’s younger brother at a different high school – and wanted to help, possibly, admittedly, at the expense of his players.
“It probably ended up being a little unfair to my high schoolers, because when ‘Halo’ came around, I put everyone through the hardest workouts I could,” Alstott said.
The former fullback, who is in the Buccaneers’ Ring of Fame, put Halapio through punishing, old-school workouts: flipping tires, pulling sleds.
But Alstott also got Halapio to add snapping to his game. At first it was short-snapping for field goals, but he picked up on it quickly and before long Matt Parker, the Northside offensive line coach who also coached Halapio in high school, was teaching him the ins and outs of playing center.
Add an agent change, and it wasn’t long before Halapio was getting another chance with a familiar team: the Patriots. He was in New England for training camp, but was again cut, and admits he didn’t “empty the tank” in his time there.
It wasn’t the last call he got, however.
Giants call, giant chance presents itself
Before he had to return to the car lot, the Giants called. Halapio spent the 2016 season and early part of 2017 on New York’s practice squad. But with numerous injuries along the line a month into the season, he was called up to the active roster and started the final six games at right guard.
According to Pro Football Focus, Halapio didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit in 231 snaps as a pass-blocker. He got a game ball after the regular-season finale, and earlier this year, he signed a one-year $555,000 contract to remain with the Giants for 2018.
Now he’s trying to win the starting center job, and started the Giants’ first two preseason games at the position.
“I’ve seen a lot of good offensive linemen—you can put a ball in their hand, and they become…debilitated,” New York’s offensive line coach Hal Hunter has said of Halapio. “But he kind of took to it a little naturally, and so we continued to work with him there. He’s really excelled at that position. Some guys have a knack for it. To play center, you have to be smart. If you’re going to play center, you’ve got to be tough because you’ve got some 400-pound guy every single snap right there in your face, and it ain’t easy.”
After experiencing the alternative, the 27-year-old Halapio isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m still on edge. I could never feel safe because I’ve been cut so many times,” he said. “It’s built into me. I know what it’s like to sell cars instead of play football. I know anything can happen. But it gives me an advantage—I’m not complacent.”
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