FOXBOROUGH — Did you hear the one about the used car salesman with aspirations of being a pro football player?
No, it's not a bad joke. It's actually a good story of perseverance. And it's unfolding down at Gillette Stadium.
Jon Halapio is on his second tour of duty with the Patriots, who drafted the guard in 2014 but released him at the end of training camp. To say he's taken a circuitous route back to New England is an understatement.
He hooked on with the Broncos practice squad that December but was released the following May. He was quickly scooped up by the Cardinals but was again released at the end of camp in September 2015. He had a couple of stints in the Fall Experimental Football League (with Boston in 2014 and Brooklyn in 2015) for good measure.
He landed back home in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he took a job selling cars at 3445 Car Store. He acknowledged he was "pretty good" at it — hey, who's going to say no to a 6-foot-2-inch, 320-pound salesman? — but he wasn't about to give up on football. So he continued working out and trying to keep his body in shape while trying to get bodies into the cars on his lot.
"Every day I would train before work,'' said Halapio, who landed a salesman/Internet marketing manager's job through fellow Florida alum Grant Bond, the dealership's owner. "I would wake up at 4 or 4:30 a.m. and get my run in and my lifting in before going to work from 9 to 5.''
He kept a close eye on his phone, hoping a team would come calling sooner than later. His patience paid off when the Patriots reached out.
"Yeah, I was surprised,'' he said. "But I knew something was going to happen.''
It wasn't just his patience that paid off. All his conditioning work — those miles he ran and those pounds he lifted — paid off, too.
"He's lighter, he's in better condition, and he has a little more experience, a couple more years experience, so that's definitely to his benefit,'' said coach Bill Belichick, when asked what differences he's noticed in Halapio this time around. "He just has a little more confidence, awareness, and he's worked hard physically. You can see that just by his general appearance, so I think he's moving in the right direction. He's made progress.''
Halapio has been enjoying his second summer in New England.
"It's going good. Just grinding it out,'' said Halapio, a captain his final two seasons at Florida. "[It's] not too much different [than 2014]. Just coming in fresh, trying to pick up the schemes and pick up where I left off and just follow what the guys are doing.''
He said the biggest lessons he's learned throughout his football journey is that it's important to never take anything for granted — and never look too far ahead.
"I learned that you've got to take everything one day at a time,'' he said. "You know, a good day can get washed out by three bad days.''
He's also grateful for his days in the FXFL. Though it's a far cry from the bright lights of the NFL, it was a necessary step to get back on the big stage.
"It was good and bad but I took more positive out of it because I did get a second chance to play in the NFL from that experience,'' Halapio said.
While he appreciates the opportunity that the FXFL, the Arena League, and the Canadian Football League affords those dreaming of the NFL, Halapio, who is battling for a depth spot, wishes there was a true minor league that used "strictly NFL football rules.''
Though Halapio's been busy "keeping my head down and grinding it out" he's been rewarded for all the long hours by finally getting to slip on the game uniform for tilts against the Saints and Bears.
"It's been a while, so it felt good to play a football game,'' said Halapio. "You do all this hard work to play in the game, so it's a good feeling.''
Asked to critique his performance, he said, "I feel good. Obviously not everything's going to be perfect and I can still improve areas of my game.''
Video: Monday's training camp report