Each Monday for the next several weeks, we will profile a Chiefs rookie to tell you why they should be your new favorite Chief. This week – first round selection George Karlaftis
Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Lead Writer – @ChiefsFocus
When I first sat down to write this, I thought “2014 does not seem that long ago.” When I think about that year personally, I think mostly about the wake-up calls that I stumbled upon. I had been living a little too fast, not taking the best care of myself, not saving enough money – just being generally irresponsible. Without going into too much detail, a night in March of that year woke me up from a lackadaisical slumber that I had been in since I moved to Springfield, MO after college. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked myself.
Now that I actually reflect on it, 2014 seems more like a lifetime ago than just a few years. It feels like that for me for some reasons, but it likely feels like that to George Karlaftis for very, very different reasons.
With the 30th pick in this year’s draft, the Chiefs took All-American edge defender George Karlaftis from Purdue University. Karlaftis had a standout college career that started early – he enrolled in what would have been the spring semester of his senior year in high school at Purdue and immediately made his presence known. Karlaftis’ performance in spring practices at Purdue (when he was still 17 years old) prompted Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm to bump senior defensive lineman Giovanni Reviere out of his incumbent position to make room to start the true freshman in his place.
“Our goal for him is to make sure that we make him a difference-maker as fast as we can,” Brohm said at the time. That goal was achieved in a very prompt manner. In 2019 Karlaftis was third in the Big Ten (a conference known for it’s annual buffet of NFL offensive line talent) in tackles for loss (17) and tenth in sacks (7.5) as a true freshman. 2020 saw Karlaftis only get on the field for 2 games between injuries and COVID-19, but 2021 the trend continued – fourth in the league in forced fumbles, 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and a nod to the AFCA First Team All-America squad. Not to mention, nearly universal first round draft grades from NFL Scouts and media across the league.
High School All American (played in the US Army All America Bowl)? Check.
High School National Defensive Player of the Year? Check.
True freshman starter in the Big Ten? Check.
All Big Ten Second Team and Big Ten Freshman of the Year? Check.
First Team All Big Ten as a junior? Check.
NCAA First Team All American? Check.
First Round NFL Draft Pick? Check.
Karlaftis must have played his whole life and just have football in his blood, much like fellow Big Ten alum and first round pick Aiden Hutchinson, right? Well, sort of.
Back to 2014. George Karlaftis was living in Athens, Greece with his parents and 3 siblings. His dad, Matthew Karlaftis, was a renowned civil engineer and professor of engineering at the National Technical University of Athens – Greece’s equivalent to Stanford University of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and a young George was on the Greek national water polo team. Yes, water polo. If you have your questions, consider this : when the Chiefs drafted Karlaftis, the guys I was watching the draft with snickered when water polo as mentioned, I interjected – think about how hard treading water for a long period of time is. Now, play a soccer game while doing that. I think you see my point.
I digress, young George is a water polo stud in 2014, he’s developing into a Track and Field athlete just like his dad (a national champion javelin thrower in college himself), life is good. As many of us know, unfortunately life can change in the blink of an eye. On June 4 of 2014, Matthew Karlaftis passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack while travelling to deliver an address in Kos. In the aftermath George’s mother Amy, who hailed originally from West Lafayette, IN and met Matthew while in school there, made the decision to move the family back to West Lafayette to be closer to her family. This is where the story of George Kaflaftis the prospective Olympian water polo player begins to end, and the story of George Karlaftis the All-American football player begins. Kind of.
The Karlaftis family arrived in West Lafayette later in the summer of 2014 and the head football coach at West Lafayette High, Jon Speaker, developed an interest in George. Speaker had known Amy since they were kids, and lobbed in a call. Karlaftis was hesitant to play football. He was in 8th grade, was 6’2” 190, and did not want to play. For good reason. Matthew Karlaftis got his PhD in Engineering at Purdue. Before that, he attended the University of Miami on a track and field scholarship. While there, he was convinced to go out for the football team – yes, the football team at the U. Dennis Erickson was the coach, Gino Toretta and The Rock were on the team, and he decided to give it a shot.
It did not go well for Matthew. In his first practice at Miami, he was severely injured when his helmet came off during as play in practice. Multiple skull fractures, hours of surgery, and scars that he would bear for the remainder of his life. Scars that stuck with George as a reminder of the brutality of American football. Because of the experience his father had with American football, he committed to playing for West Lafayette twice during the 2014 season, and both times quit. It wasn’t until his mother convinced him that with the updated, advanced technology in today’s football equipment that his chances of getting injured as badly as his dad did would be significantly reduced. He went out for the team for a third time, and the rest is history that is still being written – now in Kansas City.
To say Karlaftis is driven would be an understatement. At every level he has been labeled a workaholic, a film room junkie, a practice field and game field warrior. A scout told me the night of the draft that his team had Karlaftis labeled as a guy with great rush ability. A “hard charger”, “high motor type guy”, and that he absolutely loves football. Things that we all know now and are all equally excited to witness play out in front of us at Arrowhead Stadium and around the NFL. It’s in his blood to pursue greatness – he was on a crash course with Olympic appearances, but found the NFL when life led him a different direction.
To say he is a traditional football thoroughbred, though, would be false. Was he an athletic thoroughbred in general? Yes. But his dad did not excel at the college level on the gridiron – he was brutally injured and walked away from the game, rightfully so. George was scared to play the game when the opportunity was first presented to him despite being the largest kid in his grade. But not all who find success find it in traditional ways. Most of us have hurdles – big and small – thrown in our way throughout the course of our lives. George Karlaftis is no different. His entire world was turned upside down, so much so that he left the friends, sports, and country that he grew up in after he lost his father.
2014 was eight years ago, but the amount of adversity, change, and success that George Karlaftis has experienced in those eight years is the equivalent of what many experience in a lifetime. So, in that regard, I guess you could say that it was a lifetime ago.
It did not stop him. When life hands you adversity, the best thing to do is punch it in the mouth. Stand up and keep moving forward. George Karlaftis is not just moving forward, he is charging hard towards greatness. The Kansas City Chiefs have given him the stage to continue this incredible rush towards greatness, and we are the lucky ones with the front row seat to a remarkable story of overcoming adversity, adapting to change, and continuing to dominate.
George, welcome to the Kingdom.