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George Karlaftis ‘blessed to be here’ as he eyes second ring
(Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

George Karlaftis ‘blessed to be here’ as he eyes second ring

LAS VEGAS (BVM) – George Karlaftis has had a successful first two years of his NFL career. After becoming a first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2022 NFL Draft, Karlaftis was part of a defense that helped lead the Chiefs to a win in Super Bowl LVII.

In 2023, Karlaftis became an integral part of the Chiefs’ defensive line, racking up 10.5 sacks to go along with 47 total tackles and a forced fumble. With another sack in the AFC championship game for the second consecutive season against the Baltimore Ravens, as well as a fumble recovery, Karlaftis helped lead Kansas City to its fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last five years. 

Now, he will have a chance to win his second ring in just his second NFL season and could do so in Las Vegas, the same city where he was drafted.

“I’m just blessed to be here,” George said during his media availability prior to Super Bowl LVIII. “It’s a blessing to be a part of a situation like this.”

It’s hard to imagine things going better in the infant stages of Karlaftis’ NFL career. However, the journey to get to this point has been anything but easy.

Karlaftis grew up in Greece. His father Matt was a native of the country and a terrific athlete who came to the United States to earn a civil engineering degree at the University of Miami and also competed in track and field with the Hurricanes. He later attended Purdue to obtain a PhD where he met his wife, Amy, who is a native of West Lafayette, Indiana and was also a student at the university.

Matt and Amy eventually moved back to Greece, got married and raised four kids there: George and his siblings, Yanni, Niko and Annie. 

George Karlaftis Kansas City Chiefs 2022 NFL Draft Super Bowl LVIII
Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis after being selected as the thirtieth overall pick to the Kansas City Chiefs during the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft at the NFL Draft Theater. (Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt’s professional career took off as he became a professor at the National Technical University of Athens. At the same time, George was excelling in the many sports he was involved in but became particularly good at water polo. He starred in the goal throughout his youth and became a member of the country’s U16 national team.

However, that was around the time that George’s entire life changed. On June 4, 2014, Matt died of a heart attack at just 44 years old. He was away on a business trip on the island of Kos when he passed away.

As Amy found out the news, she screamed, prompting George to find out what was wrong.

“I was like, ‘What is it? Is it my grandpa? My uncle? My dad?’ And then my mom dropped to her knees and said, ‘Yeah, it’s your dad,’” George explained on an episode of the “The Journey” on Big Ten Network. “It’s kind of a blur.”

After Matt’s death, Amy decided to move the family back home to West Lafayette. There, George had to adjust to a new way of life.

“Learning the whole process of how school works and how to take notes and how it all needs to be in English, that was tough,” George said. “Then you transition to sports and football.”

“I think George took the majority of the pain on his shoulders, whether that’s what he should have done or not,” Amy said in a 2023 interview with WISH-TV in Indianapolis. “He had to grow up way too fast and become mature overnight.”

George Karlaftis Kansas City Chiefs NFL Super Bowl LVIII West Lafayette High School Indiana
George Karlaftis swallows up an early rush attempt by Tipton in the Hoosier Conference championship game. (Credit: Chad Krockover/For the Journal & Courier)

In addition to adjusting to a new school and a new culture, George took on different sports including track and field and basketball. He was also asked to give football a try, but was hesitant at first. 

While he was at Miami, Matt joined the Hurricanes’ football team but suffered a skull fracture during practice. Aware of this, George wasn’t sure about football but ultimately decided to give it a try in eighth grade.

He played varsity football from day one at West Lafayette High School, beginning as a kicker. It wasn’t before long that several colleges began taking notice of his 6-foot-4, 220-pound size and raw ability as he transitioned to defensive end.

George soon became a star on the gridiron, racking up 41 sacks during his high school career while also becoming a state champion and earning a spot to compete in the 2019 U.S. Army All-American game. Despite offers from college football powerhouses like Alabama and Notre Dame, George decided to stay close to home with Purdue. 

George graduated high school early and immediately made an impact with the Boilermakers. As just a freshman, he recorded 7.5 sacks as a second-team All-Big Ten player. However, just as things were looking bright, tragedy struck again.

George Karlaftis Kansas City Chiefs NFL Super Bowl LVIII Purdue Boilermakers NCAA Big Ten
George Karlaftis became an All-American during his time with the Purdue Boilermakers. (Credit: Nikos Frazier / USA TODAY NETWORK)

In November 2019, George’s girlfriend whom he had met in his freshman year of high school, Kaia Harris, was involved in a near-fatal car accident that left her unable to walk for a couple of months among several other injuries. Right after the accident, it took Harris multiple days to wake up, and according to George, a couple of weeks until she could even talk again. 

“It was crazy seeing the person you love in that kind of state,” George said. “To a certain degree, almost dead, really.

“I tried to be there a lot for her because she has always been there for me … She needed someone.”

George was at the hospital with Harris as much as he could be, spending time there in addition to his school work and his pursuit of his NFL dream during his freshman year at Purdue. After several surgeries, Harris healed up, began walking again and returned to the Boilermakers’ track and field team as a discus thrower.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted George’s play on the field in the following season, but the 6-foot-4, 260-pound edge rusher bounced back in 2021 to become a first-team All-American.

Following the 2021 season, George declared for the NFL draft and finally achieved his dream as he was selected in the first round by a Chiefs team looking for stars on the defensive side of the ball to complement Patrick Mahomes and the offense.

Less than two years later, George has a chance to be part of what many will see as a dynasty should the Chiefs win their third Super Bowl title in five years. The second-year player has continued to get better with one of the best defenses in the NFL led by Steve Spagnuolo, who George credits as a father figure this season.

“I think with Spags, it all starts about how much he cares about the guys,” Karlaftis said. “We can see that he truly cares about us, he loves us. He’s like a father figure.”

George Karlaftis Kansas City Chiefs NFL Super Bowl LVIII
Kansas City Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis (56) celebrates after a sack during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. (Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite the tragedies and hardships they have endured, George, his family and those around him have never let anything slow them down. Yanni has followed in George’s footsteps as a linebacker at Purdue, while Niko is also a Class of 2026 football prospect at West Lafayette. Meanwhile, Harris has continued to excel in track, spending the 2023 season closer to George at the University of Missouri.

And of course, George has done something he probably never would have imagined about a decade ago, nor would have his father.

“He wouldn’t believe it,” Amy said. “He would be absolutely flabbergasted that this is George’s story.”

George’s journey to this point has been quite different than others, but it’s possible that’s made him into the player he is today: one of the NFL’s budding defensive stars who could soon be a multi-time Super Bowl champion.