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Wednesday September 18, 2013 Offensive line gets huge boost with return of Halapio

Updated: 4:55pm, September 18

Halapio GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Hunter Joyer shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen him out there,” the UF fullback said. “Did he even practice in the spring?”

No. Offensive guard Jon Halapio missed spring workout recovering from knee surgery after the Sugar Bowl. Then, about a week before the Florida Gators reported for fall practice, the preseason All-Southeastern Conference lineman suffered a pectoral muscle strain while bench-pressing and was limited throughout practices in August.

Now after being sidelined for two games -- including that infuriating loss at Miami -- Halapio will return to his right guard spot Saturday when the No. 18 Gators (1-1) square off against Tennessee (2-1) in the league opener for both teams at Florida Field.

“It’s been a long time and feels great to be back,” Halapio said Wednesday. “It’s my senior year, so this will be my last first game. It’s gonna be special.”

Not only does that “last first game” come against the Volunteers, but at a time the Gators need to amp up their offense and get back to being the type of physical, tone-setting unit Coach Will Muschamp expects on that side of the ball.

Halapio goes 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, is one of the strongest players on the team and has more career starts (33) than any other Gator. So, yeah, he should help.

The UF offense was limited to just 122 rushing yards on 44 attempts -- only 2.8 per carry-- in the Hurricanes defeat and repeatedly was stymied when trying to run the ball between the tackles. Now comes some muscle, some power and some pop at the point of attack.

“We need movement up there and we’re going to get it with Jon,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “He’s going to cover up a [defensive lineman] and move him two or three yards. He knows how to put leverage on blocks and get in position better on zone schemes.”

It killed Halapio to miss the UM game.

“It killed me to miss the Toledo game, too,” he said.

Halapio’s return not only gives the Gators more brute force off the snap, but more depth. The line was down in numbers against the Hurricanes after starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and starting right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) joined Halapio on the sidelines. Humphries has returned to work and Moore has progressed enough that he's likely to be out there against the Vols.

If that's the case, when the offense line breaks its first huddle Saturday, it’ll be the closest thing the coaching staff envisioned to a full-go offensive line -- minus right tackle Chaz Greene, who is out for the year with shoulder injury -- since the team convened for the 2013 season on Aug. 1.

Just what that means for the rest of the offense, one that struggled to finish drives and convert on chances in the UM red zone, remains to be seen. The Gators enter the game ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense and last in scoring offense.

“We know the potential that we have and we know we can more successful,” Halapio said. “But like Coach Muschamp says, ‘If all you got is potential, you don’t have anything.’ This is our first conference game. It’s a new season. So it all starts with this Saturday.”

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