It probably would’ve taken two men to stop this one. It often does.
George Karlaftis rushed off the edge, launching like a heat-seeking missile toward Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras. Offensive lineman Nick DeJong, who had two inches and roughly 20 pounds on Karlaftis, stood between them for the briefest of moments before Karlaftis got a step.
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DeJong, for a second, caught up with the Purdue defensive end. Or at least the name and number that graced the back of his jersey. That was before Karlfaftis shed him and threw Petras like a ragdoll for the sack.
If no one knew any better, it looked as though Karlaftis had played football all of his life. That was hardly the case. On Day 4 of the NFL Draft scouting combine, Karlaftis talked to the media about how his skills took him from a teenager forced to migrate across the globe in light of loss, to a podium, answering questions under the spotlight about a game he didn ‘ t even play eight years ago.
Football wasn’t a thought “at all,” Karlaftis said, when he grew up in Athens, Greece. More than three million people made up the city. Soccer, as in most of Europe, dominated the streets of Greece. Karlaftis spent his days playing water polo.
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Six hour training sessions filled Karlaftis’ days at just 10 years old. He remembers being forced to hold a chair in the pool as his shoulders remained above water while preparing to play goalie. Karlaftis was good enough to play quite a few years; he was committed to play for the U16 Greece national team.
Until his world came crashing down.
Karlaftis ‘father, Matthew, passed away when George was 13. Karlaftis’ mother, Amy, then moved him and his siblings nearly 5,500 miles to her hometown of West Lafayette.
In an American college town, Karlaftis could not hide from football. Any friends he made were playing it. His high school coaches pestered him to play. With everyone in his ear to try his hand at football, he caved.
“So I was like,‘ I’m going to try it out. It can’t be too hard, ” Karlaftis said. “‘I’m faster, I’m bigger and I’m stronger than everyone, so.’ That was the initial thing. I started playing it about a year later and I just completely fell in love with it. ”
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It wasn’t exactly as easy as water polo. Sure, Karlaftis was strong. But competing in football – especially at the level he hoped for – required similar hours to the ones he endured working to refine his water polo skills.
“I didn’t know anything about the game really,” Karlaftis said. “I was relying on my athletic ability, my natural instinct. I didn’t know what a first down was, how to get in a stance, how to throw a spiral. I still can’t really throw a spiral. “
But the Greek kid who grew up around the other football caught on quick. He terrorized kids around the state before inevitably ending up down the road at Purdue, saying he was “Purdue through and through.”
As a freshman, Karlaftis started in all 12 of his games. After playing the game for a few years, he’d established himself as a force in the Big Ten as soon as he arrived on campus.
During this past season, the junior defensive end started in all 12 games again, collecting 4.5 sacks, 28 solo tackles and 39 total tackles for an average of 10 yards. He was subsequently named a third-team All American and first-team All-Big Ten.
Karlaftis saw his fair share of double and triple teams at Purdue. His combination of power and speed have made him a prized defensive lineman – priced as high as the top-half of the first round in many mock drafts. But his approach could lead teams to bet on him even further.
“One word: Relentless,” he said. “That’s how I approach life, how I approach the game, in terms of my technique, in terms of how I play, my motor, my effort. Everything about it is relentless. … You’re out there fighting for food basically. You’re like a lion trying to get after a gazelle. You’re trying to get there by any means possible. “
With him opting to do every drill this week in Indianapolis except the 40-yard dash, scouts will likely get the chance to find what they’re looking for out of Karlaftis. Considering Karlaftis hasn’t played football for a full decade yet, it might be safe to say that he’s finding everything he’s looking for and more out of this draft process.
“Formulating where I wanted to be, I started falling in love with the game, thinking about where I wanted to be in a few years,” Karlaftis said. “This was the next step to where I want to be in the future.”