The NFL makes strange bedfellows.
It’s a place where your closest competition is a teammate, and that teammate is your friend. In the case of Jon Halapio and Brett Jones, two offensive linemen competing for starting jobs, they are best friends.
“I tell everybody this – Brett Jones is my best friend,” Halapio (pronounced hah-LAH-pee-o) said. “And when I got here in 2016 as a practice squad player, I was at guard and Brett is the reason why I am here. He taught me how to play center. He taught me snapping and stepping – just different things about being the center. So he’s the one that’s helped me tremendously from when I first got here to switch over to center. I give a big credit out to him, and yeah, we’re just both competing right now, man, and I think competition brings out the best in both of us.”
Originally a sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2014, Halapio bounced around from New England to Denver, to Arizona, to the Fall Experimental Football League’s Brooklyn Bolts, back to New England, and then to the New York Giants. He never played in an NFL game until last season, when he appeared 10 times, including the final six weeks starting at right guard. Incoming general manager Dave Gettleman saw enough to re-sign the Florida native and former Gator in March.
Through the first two weeks of organized team activities (OTAs), Halapio and Jones have been part of an active rotation that extends out to both guard positions with the likes of newcomer Patrick Omameh, John Greco, and rookie second-round draft pick Will Hernandez. All the while, head coach Pat Shurmur is installing a new offense.
“It’s all new for everybody – from top, down, from Eli [Manning] to all the young guys,” Halapio said. “So I think it’s important for us to get the communication down, the trust, obviously getting the system down, and obviously gelling in with the different combinations that we have up front. … It’s been working good. We have a lot of veteran guys to group around, especially around Will, he’s coming in as a rookie. So I think the communication has been good with all the different groups.”
It also helps to have a 15-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl MVP taking the snaps.
“If I’m wrong, I’ve got Eli behind me to correct me,” Halapio said. “So I’m 100 percent right with him behind me. It’s good working with 10. Obviously everybody knows his historic background, so being in front of him, snapping the ball to him, it’s a great honor and I just trust him back there to make me right if I’m wrong.”
Halapio added: “We have great teachers from the offensive staff, teaching us well and installing all the installs. So it’s going well for me. I’m just trying to get that terminology down and just having the confidence and poise when I’m in there at center.”
When he’s not in there, Jones typically is. Like Halapio, Jones has come a long way. The former All-Star from the Canadian Football League was just looking to get his foot in the door with the Giants in 2015, and now he is aiming to retain his starting job for the Giants.
“When I first came out, I had great success in the CFL, but the CFL is the CFL,” said Jones, who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman and won the Grey Cup in 2014. “It’s a great league, but coming here, I knew that it would be a challenge with the different rules. Especially for offensive line play, it’s a lot different (for instance, defenders in the CFL must line up one-yard off the line of scrimmage). I wanted to get my foot in the door and make a good impression. The injury in the first year was tough, but I was able to come back the second year and just keep getting better. And that’s always been my focus – just keep improving as a player and good things will happen. I see myself ascending and just keep getting better.”
In the meantime, he will help his best friend.
“It’s great to share these experiences with each other,” Halapio said. “And if something goes wrong with his reps, he’ll tell me. If something goes wrong with my reps, I tell him. We’re not out there trying to trick each other or anything like that. It’s just pure competition, and we’ll let the chips fall where they lay.”