From Athens to the NFL

Munich – Ironically, the worst stroke of fate in his life led him to American football.

George Karlaftis has always been a sporty boy. Swimming, football, tennis, basketball, athletics, judo and water polo – he hardly missed a sport. He was particularly talented in water polo and became a goalkeeper for the Greek U16 national team.

The only thing he never really wanted to try was American football.

The reason: his father Matt, a graduate athlete from the University of Miami, had once completed a tryout and suffered a serious head injury. So it’s no wonder he discouraged his children from this supposedly dangerous sport. “I was scared and never really wanted to play growing up,” George Karlaftis told ESPN.

Since he didn’t grow up in the US, but his father had returned to Greece and started a family in Athens, that wasn’t a problem. Other sports are more important than football in the southern European country.

After his father’s death, he left for the United States

But then came the heavy blow of fate that turned his life upside down: When George Karlaftis was 13 years old, his father died of a heart attack. The young family had to start all over again. And she did: in the United States.

Along with his mother and three siblings, he moved near West Lafayette, Indiana, to live with his mother’s family. In addition to dealing with the loss of his father, young George also had to learn a new language and adapt to a new environment.

His athletic talent helped him—and led him to the once-dreaded American football in high school. “That’s how life is,” says Karlaftis today: “A lot happened when I was twelve or 13 years old. Big changes happened in my life. I had to grow up and become a man almost overnight. “

Karlaftis still likes to think back to his native Greece: “You can experience the best summers ever there. It’s a different atmosphere than anywhere else in the world.” But in the United States he found a new calling.

College Football: A freshman stalwart

His impressive defensive end performances earned him a football scholarship to Purdue University. He was a starter as a freshman and had 7.5 sacks in 12 games. He was even selected to the Big Ten Conference All-Star team following the 2021 season.

That’s why Karlaftis looked forward to the 2022 NFL Draft with confidence. “My best football is yet to come,” he said. “Without a single doubt in my head, I know that. In my heart, I think I should be No. 1. If the teams or Twitter or Instagram or ESPN see it differently, that’s fine. But that’s how I feel.”

Ultimately, he was selected 30th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. Another team might have drafted him sooner had he not suffered a serious leg injury in the 2020 season and missed most of the season as a result.

One of the best run stoppers in the draft class

The 1.96 meter tall and 115 kilo edge rusher has long arms and knows how to use his physical strength in the pass rush. Nevertheless, he is agile enough to get to the quarterback via an outside rush. He can also be convincing when playing against the barrel and was considered one of the best players in the 2022 NFL Draft. In the 2021 season alone, he had 39 tackles, ten of which resulted in a loss of position.

Nevertheless, Karlaftis knows he has yet to make his mark in the NFL. “I start at the bottom and work my way up. I earn my stripes and work as hard as I can,” he announces. “When you find something you love, work as hard as you can at it. It wouldn’t do any good to dedicate almost your entire life to one cause if you don’t give it your all.”

In the preseason game against the Chicago Bears (Saturday from 18:45, live on ProSieben MAXX and ran.de) he will have the opportunity to demonstrate his potential in the Chiefs jersey for the first time.

What would his father say to that? “He would be so incredibly proud of me even though I play football,” he says. “I graduated from college in three years and I’m a professional athlete. It would have been a dream come true for him.”

Oliver Jensen

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