Kansas City Chiefs rookie defensive end George Karlaftis is one game away from every kid’s dream. However, the kick-off to his football career was far from a Super Bowl moment.
“My first two plays I jumped offsides twice,” he recalls of his debut at nose guard as an eighth grader “They got me on a hard count. Then the second time I just went after the quarterback, he threw it away, and I didn’t know what to do. Players were like, this guy does know what he’s doing.”
Karlaftis, at the time, was the new kid in school after his family relocated from Athens, Greece to West Lafayette, IN. He was also 6’2” and nearly 200 pounds and possessed the strength and smarts to learn the ins and outs fairly quickly.
When he entered high school, George Karlaftis said his early workouts focused primarily on plenty of speed and lower-body explosiveness, not through heavy weightlifting but through speed drills and a focus on core work.
By his sophomore year, as his teammates were huddling in and out of the squat rack doing 225 front squats and dogging him for his refusal to join, Karlaftis, at 6’4’’ and about 260 pounds, finally obliged and immediately proceeded to shut the mouths of every naysayer on the team.
“I threw another plate on and hit 315 for five reps,” he says, laughing. “And they were like, Okay, this guy’s a little different than us.”
From there, George Karlaftis began compiling as many postseason awards as he would stack on weight plates on a bar. He became Indiana defensive player of the year and waa selected to the 2019 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. He would then go to Purdue where he earned second-team Big 10 honors as a sophomore as well as academic All Big 10 in 2020.
This year, the Chiefs selected Karlaftis in the first round, and has immediately paid dividends. He ended the season with six sacks—third among NFL rookies—and was named to the 2022 Pro Football Writers of America first team.
And with the biggest game in his sights, he’s peaking at the right time.
His biggest sack of the season, however, came during the AFC championship game in which the Chiefs defeated Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, to earn a trip to the Super Bowl this Sunday against the NFC champions Philadelphia Eagles.
So far, in such an early and successful start to his career, George Karlaftis’ Winning Strategy includes:
- Soaking up wisdom of veteran teammates
- Taking notes during film sessions like a Ph.D. student
- Finding time to enjoy your accomplishments (after hustling to get the pre- and intra-game work done.
“It just doesn’t really feel real,” Karlaftis says of the leadup to Super Bowl LVII. “It’s very surreal. Like almost like living a dream. You know, and this was, this kind of is my dream. So it’s pretty awesome.”
George Karlaftis Soaks in the Veteran Knowledge
You hear this before you enter the league: Listen to your vets. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, and you learn from experience; it’s the best teacher of them all.
So guys who’ve been there, done that, you ask them little questions like, “What’s media and the schedule like with everything going on?” Or, “What’s the game like, and how is the speed, how is the break with the long halftime?” All that kind of stuff.
Obviously, you play your own game, but at the same time, you want to know as much as possible. So learning from those the events about that kind of stuff, from guys who’ve had a tremendous amount of success for the Chiefs—guys like Travis Kelce and Patrick [Mahomes] and Chris Jones—those guys have set the precedent of what the Chiefs expectations are every single year. We demand success and have very low tolerance for mistakes.
Coaches would be like, we need to be ready for playoff speed.
So I would ask them what are they talking about? Like, are the playoffs actually faster. They’re like, it can feel that way because there’s more at stake. But take a step back, and it’s really the same old game you’ve been playing for a good long time.
Prepare Now to Be Available Later
We went to training camp back in July and it’s been full throttle ever since. That’s a lot on your body. So doing that for 20 to 30 weeks is really it’s really taxing on your body and that’s something that I had learned to combat since before college.
I was fortunate enough to know people who played in the NFL and sports professionally. And everyone told me not to wait to take care of my body when I get hurt. So for me it was a lot of stretching. A lot of preventive rehab—I just call it prehab. I’ll work on my ankle and hip mobility, and those little muscles in my shoulders, hip flexors and adductors. I’ll work enough in those little areas and the muscles in the legs and the ligaments and all that stuff so I can endure whatever stress that might be.
That’s what I did in college but now I’ve taken that to another level. At my house I have an infrared sauna and a hyperbaric chamber. I get massages three times a week, see my chiropractor twice, IVs twice a week. I’ll do mobility every single day, stretch with my trainer, Bobby Troupe, not just to stay healthy, but also to ger a little bigger, better, faster, stronger and more mobile during the season.
A lot of veterans who’ve played say they didn’t really take care of their bodies as much as they should have. They wouldn’t get massages and would just go home and relax. So I’ve learned from people’s experiences and what and what they say so I think the big part is yet taking care of my body and focusing on stuff before it gets her focusing on those weaknesses that I have physically.
So really just trying to learn from people’s experiences has been a huge key for meThere’s Carlos Dunlap, he’s been in the league for 13 years. He encouraged me to start getting IVs. He also started telling me to focus on little things like my toe health and my foot health., which is crucial for our position.
I’ve had guys like Chris Jones telling me to get on the hyperbaric chamber, and Travis Kelce and Patrick told me to get a sauna. So you take the little you take little nuggets from every single player and try to try to make it work for you and see what works best for you.
Take Note of Your Best and Worst Moments
Film study is one of the biggest things we do. We watch practice every day—watch our drills, every little detail of ourselves. We watch the opponents to see how you can take advantage of them, but for me it’s watching myself—whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
If you saw my notebook, you’d be like, this guy’s crazy. I write down like every little detail because I feel like when I write something down, I remember it better. It’s like a coach may say, “Don’t do this!” and I’ll write that down. It just sticks with me a little better.
I’ll make sections every week, and there’ll be like different sections about the opponent, specific tendencies. It’s a lot of work for me, but it’s about myself and what I can do to be better against these guys.
One important less that still resonates with me came In high school. This was my sophomore year and it was the third game. It was a small school in Indiana, and I was pretty physically dominant over everyone else.
Three games, in, I wasn’t trying super hard at the team—we were going against wasn’t really good. My defensive coordinator took me out of the game. I was like, what’s going on?” He said, if you’re not going to play hard, I’m not gonna play you. So he from that point on if I wasn’t giving my absolute all every play, he would take me out.
At the time I hated him—Coach Roseman—but he he’s a big factor in why I play the way I do. I don’t know if he knows that or not. But yeah, he’s been huge for me.
George Karlaftis Learns, Then Moves On
You have to have goldfish memory in football. It’s something coaches talk about all the time. Goldfish have no short term memory. It’s on to the next play, that’s what they always talk about. Next play next play, next play. because then like if you’re thinking about the previous play, then it’s gonna affect your next play. You can’t do much about the past, but you can always improve your future by being good in the present.
I remember one off the top my head my last year at Purdue. I got an offsides penalty on the first play of the game—I Just jumped offsides. You know, I thought I saw some that wasn’t there. And then I went on and had a pretty good game, but I felt stupid, like “What am I doing?” because it was the first play of the game. But then I ended up having a big tackle for a loss on that drive that bailed us out. You can either forget about it or use it for motivation. I think both work.
Take Some Time To Enjoy Your Moment
Frank Clark’s been in multiple Super Bowls and has been very successful in this league. He said, hey guys, take a moment to really enjoy this. There’s a lot of turnover in the NFL personnel-wise, and our group is never going to be the same again. So enjoy it with these guys, it’s a lot of fun. Obviously take care of your business and focus on the opponent. But you know, just take some time to really enjoy this because not too many people get to experience what we’re about to.
After the championship game, it was crazy. It was a lot of a lot of hugs a lot of celebration. Felt like a like a dream like a movie. Like it wasn’t real. It was incredible. So shortly after guys like our job’s not done yet. You know like we have one more game. Let’s finish it.
Follow George Karlaftis on Instagram @georgekarlaftis.