“Don’t forget ‘Pio.”
That was New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman at his 2018 season-ending press conference, reminding media that the team played 14+ games without starting center Jon Halapio. The reminder was a foreshadowing that the team expected Halapio, who broke his ankle Week 2, to return as the anchor to the middle of Giants’ 2019 offensive line.
Whenever possible throughout the offseason, Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur have praised Halapio’s work during his abbreviated two-game stint last season. Gettleman said Halapio “was playing the best of anybody” on the Giants’ offensive line before he got hurt. Shurmur said Halapio “was playing really well” and the team “had high hopes for him” prior to his injury.
Well, Halapio is back now. The soon-to-be 28-year-old is the anchor in the middle of version 2.0 of Gettleman’s offensive line rebuild.
“Having a lot of fun out there,” Halapio told me during mandatory mini-camp. “Feels good to be back out there healthy.”
Halapio is appreciative of the support from the organization.
“It does feel good when the coaches and the GM were saying those nice things about me,” Halapio said. “It just shows how much work and countless hours I’ve put into this whole football journey. Here especially, this is the longest team I’ve been a part of.
“I’m glad that they noticed how many hours, how much work I’ve put in to get to this point. I’m just super excited to move forward.”
Let’s delve a little further into Halapio’s journey and what his return could mean for the Giants as we continue profiling the 90 players the Giants will bring to training camp.
Age: 27 (28 on June 23)
How he got here
Halapio’s football journey didn’t begin last season. Or in 2016 when he first joined the Giants. Hardly. It’s been a long, winding road of closed doors, constantly being told no until the Giants said yes a year ago, making him the starting center.
We detailed that journey in a piece last year on Halapio. Here it is again, along with Halapio’s thoughts on the road that eventually ended with him as the Giants’ starting center.
He was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, and was let go in final cuts before the season started. He has also been with the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Patriots a second time and finally to the Giants as a practice squad player in 2016.
Oh, and did we mention the two stints in the short-lived Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL). In-between NFL jobs, Halapio played for the Boston Brawlers in 2014 and the Brooklyn Bolts in 2015.
“Every time I got cut I had no game film, really. I was just trying to get some game film out there,” Halapio said. “I heard about that Experimental League and I wanted to give it a try. I don’t know if it helped, but I don’t regret the decision.”
Halapio was active for 10 games in 2017, starting six at right guard. He won the center job last season, thus entering a year as an NFL starter for the first time.
Then, the injury against the Dallas Cowboys, the cart ride to injured reserve players hate to take and a lost opportunity to establish himself as a true starting center.
During the course of the season, Halapio was often in the Giants’ locker room when it was open to media. Whether he was zipping around on a scooter or, later in the recovery process, in a walking boot Halapio seemed upbeat whenever he would greet a member of the media or stop to chat for a minute.
Halapio said the fact that his wife, Sierra, and children Savannah and Jeremiah were in New Jersey during the season helped. Also the fact that the Giants included him in meetings, allowing him to “still feel like a part of the group.”
“It is hard but once you go through a lot of adversity in life, in my career, your first reaction isn’t ‘oh I feel sorry for myself,’” Halapio said. “Your first reaction is it came and went already. Now all I can do is move forward.
“Just like when I got cut a bunch of times, I can’t just sit there and think why me, why did this happen to me? My first reaction was it happened, I can’t control it, can’t sit here depressed. I’ve just gotta move forward.”
Halapio has moved forward. To 2019. To preparing once again for the opportunity he didn’t fully get to take advantage of a season ago. He will almost certainly open the season as the Giants’ starting center. Theoretically, there may be a competition with Spencer Pulley. It would, though, be a surprise if Halapio isn’t the top guy on the depth chart.
So, what is Halapio bringing to the Giants’ offensive line?
Former college and NFL scout Matt Williamson broke down Halapio’s two 2018 games for us in a recent film study. Here is part of Williamson’s conclusion:
... based off his 2018 film, Halapio looks like a center that New York can win with and he usually finds a way to get the job done. It also should be noted that with the addition of Kevin Zeitler and the continued progression of Will Hernandez, Halapio looks to be surrounded by an excellent pair of guards in 2018. Zeitler also should be a very positive influence on both Halapio and Hernandez, especially in pass protection.
Again, it was just a two-game sample size, but considering the many other issues that New York needed to address this offseason, you can see why the Giants decided to give Halapio another shot as the starter in the middle, especially with the excellent pair of guards they now have flanking him. To Halapio’s credit, he was more comfortable and more impressive in his second start on the road than opening weekend. This isn’t a high upside player though and “Serviceable” is probably the best New York should expect overall here.
Perhaps the most stunning thing about Halapio’s presence on the remade line, and a roster that has been massively overhauled during the past two offseasons, is that he is now the longest-tenured Giant among the offensive linemen. Nate Solder, Zeitler and Mike Remmers have more NFL service time, but Halapio is beginning his fourth year as a Giant. No other lineman has been on the team that long. He called that “crazy,” but also knows that status comes with responsibility.
“Any time a young guy comes into the building you’ve gotta show by example how you’re supposed to be a Giant, how you’re supposed to act professionally,” Halapio said. “They come to you as the longest-tenured guy and expect you to be something, a picture of what they think you’re supposed to be. I just try to do my best to lead by example.”
Halapio will play with Hernandez, a much more comfortable second-year player, and the veteran Zeitler to either side of him. Here is what he said about those two players:
On Hernandez, the 2018 second-round pick:
“Two big things stand out to me about Will -- his awareness and his maturity,” Halapio said. “As weeks went on [last season] you could tell him and Nate [Solder] were gelling together. Hats off to Nate for raising him right.”
Halapio added that he “can hear that [added awareness] in his play, passing off twists or anything like that his awareness is right there.”
On Zeitler, acquired from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Olivier Vernon:
“He’s good. He’s good, man. I like the energy he brings. He’s an upbeat, get after it, tough guy, works hard. Loves to lift weights,” Halapio said. “He’s all ball. He’s obsessed with football, which is good. We need that piece to the puzzle.”
In addition to the upgrades around him, Halapio’s health should be another reason to be optimistic about the Giants’ 2019 offensive line.