It started out as a simple gesture. Brett Jones was the Giants’ backup center and guard Jon Halapio had just been added to the practice squad during the 2016 season. Jones, who said he’d always been touched by the way teammates had welcomed him to new locker rooms, went up to Halapio, greeted him and offered to smooth the transition in any way he could.
“Jon may have gotten to play that year, so I was going to help him out any way I could,” Jones said. “That’s what a good teammate does. That’s what I strive to do.”
It turned into a close friendship. The two men are from very different backgrounds – Jones is a product of the CFL after growing up in Saskatchewan; Halapio is covered in tribal tattoos honoring his Tongan heritage after being raised in South Florida – and bonded almost immediately.
“I hang out with him all the time,” Halapio said. “Over the years I’ve just seen his study habits and I just pick Brett’s brain a little bit over the years. Big credit to Brett for helping me out.”
One day during that 2016 season, they were hanging out after a practice and – no one quite remembers how it happened – they started talking about snapping. It was something Jones, a natural center, had been doing his entire football life. Halapio had played guard almost exclusively, although he’d begun dabbling at center earlier that season when he was in training camp with the Bucs.
“He asked me and I sort of gave him the basic training for it,” Jones said. “After practice we’d stay and work on snapping and it sort of went from there.”
“He ultimately helped me transition over to center,” Halapio said. “I just had the ball one day, we just kept snapping back and forth to each other, and he taught me how to snap.”
What neither of them could have imagined then was that it would lead them here, to this training camp, where the two men now are competing for one job as the starting center for the Giants.
Early in the offseason, it seemed as if it would be Jones’ position to win. He was taking the bulk of the reps and had played there in 2017, starting 13 games after Weston Richburg went on injured reserve. But at some point during OTAs, Halapio started to take the reps with the first team. Now, throughout training camp, it has been Halapio with the first unit exclusively and Jones with the second unit.
Coach Pat Shurmur has warned not to read too much into the depth chart at this point and said both men are vying for the job. They’re trying to do that.
“It was [strange] at first, but now it’s just pure competition,” Halapio said. “Everybody’s getting evaluated. As far as me and Brett go, we’re friends. We help each other out in the film room, on the field. Outside of football, we’re still hanging out. Nothing’s awkward between us.”
Jones has no regrets about offering that helping hand to Halapio two years ago, even though by helping his buddy convert to center, he ultimately may have cost himself a job.
“That’s sort of the quirk,” Jones said with a smile. “I just try to do what’s right, and that’s what I was doing. Just do those little things, and in the long run it’ll pay off for you.”
Even if, ultimately, it’s the pupil who surpasses the teacher?
“He’s my friend and it’s been fun for us,” Jones said. “I’m excited for both of us for the upcoming season. Whoever gets the opportunity [to start], it’s the best for them and that’s how it’ll go.”