George Karlaftis showed up in West Layfette, Indiana, in the fall of 2014 as a 6-foot-tall eighth grader knowing his family wasn’t thrilled about the idea of him playing football. Karlaftis’ dad, Matt, underwent a 12-hour surgery to repair a fractured skull he suffered during a practice at the University of Miami in the 1990s.
When his dad died of a heart attack at the age of 44, Karlaftis, his mother and his siblings moved from Greece to Indiana to be close to his mother’s family. After some initial hesitation, Karlaftis was swayed to try America’s favorite sport, fell in love, became a standout defensive end at Purdue, and is now likely to hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.
In his social media post announcing he was entering the draft, Karlaftis gave thanks to God for His guidance.
“The last few years at Purdue have been the best years of my life,” he wrote. “I have grown both on and off the field through the support and guidance of God, my family, friends, coaches, teammates, support staff and, of course, our amazing fans.”
Ever grateful ever true🖤 pic.twitter.com/XkE92rV4N5
— George Karlaftis III (@TheGK3) December 7, 2021
Karlaftis didn’t begin playing in a serious way until high school and actually started out as a kicker while he learned the game. Alabama and Notre Dame had offered him scholarships by the time he was an upperclassman, the significance of which he failed to grasp.
Though he could have gone just about anywhere, Karlaftis chose to stay home and committed to Purdue in October 2017.
"Prove them wrong – that's big to me."
— Purdue On BTN (@PurdueOnBTN) April 23, 2022
“He has his pillars: No. 1 is God and No. 2 is his family,” Kaia Harris, his longtime girlfriend, told ESPN. “I knew he was never going to leave his family. He was 100% going to Purdue.”
Karlaftis met Harris at West Lafayette High School, and both wound up competing athletically for the Boilermakers. Harris transferred from the Air Force Academy to Purdue in 2018 and joined the track and field team.
But in November 2019, she nearly died. She and two friends were driving on a highway when their car collided with an 18-wheeler. Harris was unable to walk for two months while she recovered from numerous injuries suffered in the crash.
Despite still not being 100% healed, she was able to return to competition in 2021. The faith and determination Harris showed made a lasting impression on Karlaftis.
“Kaia’s courage just shows me that God has a plan for her,” he told His Huddle in September. “Her courage and mentality are truly inspiring and something that inspires me. That just goes to show that you might be having soreness or pain somewhere, but that is not that significant in the grand scheme of things.”
Meanwhile, Karlaftis burst onto the football scene as a freshman in 2019, recording the most tackles for loss on the team (17.5) and tying for the lead in sacks (7.5). His performance earned him All-Big Ten second-team honors.
He bounced back from an injury-plagued 2020 in a big way last season, as the Boilermakers won nine games for the first time since 2003. Karlaftis was named a first-team All Big-Ten and third-team All-American selection for his contributions.
👀 George had no idea he was about to be surprised with a welcome announcement. ▶️ Hit play! pic.twitter.com/exSoal2uGN
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) April 21, 2022
Through the trials and the national attention, Karlaftis has never wavered from his foundation.
“My faith gives me the strength and courage to do anything I want to do within the sport,” he told His Huddle. “I can achieve all things through Him as long as I work hard. As a Christian, I am doing everything to glorify God. For me it’s faith, family and football.”
Coverage of the NFL draft’s first round begins at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, and resumes with Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday night, before Rounds 4-7 on Saturday afternoon.
– SS PODCAST: NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah on trusting in Jesus, preparing for draft
– SS PODCAST: O-lineman T.J. Storment on preparing for NFL, being guided by God
– Cardinals DL Michael Dogbe gets baptized, ‘thankful for God’s presence’ in his life
– NFL wife Sarah Taylor says ‘name of Jesus brought comfort’ after attempted abduction
– Former NFL QB Dan Orlovsky prospering at ESPN while letting faith in God guide him