Jon Halapio’s route to the NFL was a long one. Originally drafted by the Patriots in 2014, he bounced around the practice squads of four different teams before he made it to an active roster. He made his NFL regular-season debut late in the 2017 season. That was an arduous three and a half years of waiting.
But it was nothing compared to the past 10 and a half months.
Halapio finally emerged as an NFL starter with the Giants last season, winning the job at center in training camp, then fractured his ankle in the second game of the season. He underwent surgery, and went through rehab. He participated in offseason workouts and minicamps. So far he hasn’t missed a rep in training camp because of the injury. And now, on Thursday night, he’ll get to play in a game.
It's the next step in a return that he said feels longer than the one preceding his initial arrival as an NFL starter.
“I worked so hard to get to that point, and it just got taken away from me like that, so it’s like I’m waiting again,” he said this week, while preparing for the preseason opener against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. “I think this waiting game was a lot longer.”
Maybe because while he was recovering, he was also wondering. He was a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Giants could easily have moved on from him. They could have found another center, either by re-signing Spencer Pulley who stepped in in the second half of the season and played well, or adding another veteran. They could have even drafted one.
“There was no for-sure answer,” Halapio said of his thinking at the time. “I had good conversations with my coaches here and there toward the end of the season, here and there with (GM Dave) Gettleman. But there was no for-sure answer that I was coming back. I just knew that if I get trying to get healthy, get back to where I was physically and mentally, I’d have a chance.”
Eventually the Giants did sign him. And Pulley. Both have been battling for the starting center job, just as Halapio and Brett Jones did last year. It seems as if Halapio has locked that job down once again.
Halapio is a bit of an outlier in the Giants rebuilt offensive line. He has the fewest career starts of any of the five projected starters, even though he is the longest tenured Giant of any of them. And he is coming off an injury that often seems to be dismissed as just an ankle but was actually quite similar to the one that nearly ruined Odell Beckham Jr.’s career.
“I think people do,” he said when asked if the severity of the injury is downplayed, “but, I mean, people are just expecting results, man. You can either do the job or you can’t. I think that’s where I’m at right now.”
So far, it’s been more can than can’t.
“I think he sort of caught up in the spring,” Pat Shurmur said of Halapio’s return. “He looks good. He’s playing hard and playing well . . . I think he’s done a good job to get maybe the first look.”
That look will come Thursday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Halapio said. “Game reps are huge for me, especially coming from the injury last year. This is going to be the real test.”
There have already been others. The first day in pads at practice earlier in camp was a milestone for him, he said at the time. And twice so far in practices he’s been rolled up on from behind in a way similar to how he was injured against the Cowboys last September. Both times he popped right up.
“I don’t think about it,” he said of the injury. “I don’t even wear tape out there anymore. The only time I think about it is if somebody asks me.”
Sorry about that, Jon, said the person asking him about it.
“It’s all good,” he smiled.
Once he gets back on the field, it will be.