Kansas City Chiefs rookie defensive end George Karlaftis is just a game away from every kid's dream. However, the start of his football career was anything but a Super Bowl moment.
"In my first two games, I jumped offside twice," he recalls of his nose guard debut as an eighth grader. "You caught me hard. Then the second time I just went after the quarterback, he threw it away and I didn't know what to do. The players said this guy knows what he's doing."
Karlaftis was the new kid in school at the time after his family moved to West Lafayette, IN from Athens, Greece. He was also 6ft 2in tall and nearly 200lbs and possessed the strength and intelligence to pick up the ins and outs fairly quickly.
By the time he got into high school, George Karlaftis said that his early workouts focused primarily on lots of lower-body speed and explosiveness, not through heavy weightlifting but through speed drills and a focus on core work.
In his sophomore year, with his teammates hustling in and out of the squat rack, doing 225 front squats and chasing him for refusing to join, Karlaftis, at 6'4'' and about 260 pounds, was finally signed and immediately went on to do the Mouths of every naysayer on the team.
"I threw up another record and hit 315 for five reps," he says, laughing. "And they were like, 'Okay, this guy's a little bit different from us.'
From there, George Karlaftis began putting together as many postseason awards as he could stack on weight plates on a bar. He was named Indiana's Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to the 2019 US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. He then went to Purdue, where he received second-team Big 10 honors as a sophomore, as well as the academic All Big 10 in 2020.
This year, the Chiefs picked Karlaftis in the first round and immediately paid dividends. He finished the season with six sacks -- third among NFL rookies -- and was named to the Pro Football Writers of America first-team in 2022.
And since he has his sights set on the biggest game, he climaxes at just the right time.
His biggest sack of the season, however, came during the AFC championship game in which the Chiefs beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 to earn a trip to the Super Bowl against NFC champions Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday.
So far, at such an early and successful start to his career, George Karlaftis' winning strategy includes:
- Soak up the knowledge of experienced teammates
- Taking tes During Movie Sessions Like a Ph.D. University student
- Find time to enjoy your achievements (after rushing to get the work done before and during the game.
"It just doesn't really feel real," Karlaftis says of preparing for Super Bowl LVII. "It's very surreal. Almost like living a dream. You know, and that was, that's my dream. So it's pretty awesome.”
George Karlaftis imbues veteran knowledge
Hear this before you join the league: listen to your vets. They were there, they did it, and you learn from experience; it is the best teacher of all.
So people who've been there ask them little questions like, 'How's the media and the schedule, given how things are going?' Or, 'How's the game, what's the pace, how's the break with the long half ?” All that stuff.
Obviously you are playing your own game but at the same time you want to know as much as possible. So learning about stuff like that from those events, from people who've had tremendous success for the Chiefs - guys like Travis Kelce and Patrick [Mahomes] and Chris Jones — these guys have set the precedent for what the Chiefs expect every year. We demand success and have a very low tolerance for mistakes.
The coaches would say we have to be ready for playoff pace.
So I would ask them what they're talking about? Like, the playoffs are actually faster. They say it can feel like this because there's more at stake. But take a step back and it really is the same old game you've been playing for a long time.
Prepare now to be available later
We went to the training camp in July and have been full throttle ever since. That's a lot for your body. Doing this for 20-30 weeks is really taxing on your body and that's something I learned to fight even before college.
I've been fortunate to know people who have played professionally in the NFL and in sports. 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. Lots of preventive rehab - I just call it prehab. I'm going to work on my ankle and hip mobility and those little muscles in my shoulders, hip flexors and adductors. I'm going to work enough in those little areas and the muscles in the legs and the ligaments and all that stuff that I can handle any stress I can get.
I did that in college, but now I've taken it to another level. At home I have an infrared sauna and a hyperbaric chamber. I get massages three times a week, see my chiropractor twice, IV fluids twice a week. I will be doing mobility every day, stretching with my trainer Bobby Troupe not only to stay healthy but also to get a little bit bigger, better, faster, stronger and more flexible throughout the season.
Many veterans who have played say they haven't taken care of their bodies as well as they should. They didn't get massages and just went home and relaxed. So I've learned from people's experiences and what and what they say, so I think the big role is to take care of my body and focus on things before focusing on my physical weaknesses.
So a big key for me was just trying to learn from people's experiences. There's Carlos Dunlap, he's been in the league for 13 years. He encouraged me to have IVs. He also started telling me to focus on little things like my toe health and my foot health, which is vital to our position.
I've had people like Chris Jones telling me to go into the hyperbaric chamber and Travis Kelce and Patrick telling me to go into the sauna. So you take the little nuggets from each individual player and try to make it work for you and see what works best for you.
Jot down your best and worst moments
Studying film is one of the biggest things we do. We watch the training every day - watching our exercises, every little detail of us. We watch opponents to see how to 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 would say this guy is crazy. I write down every little detail because I feel like I remember it better when I write something down. It's like a trainer saying, "Don't do that!" and I write that down. It just sticks to me a little better.
I will create sections every week and there will be 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 less important one that still resonates with me came in high school. That was my second year and it was the third game. It was a small school in Indiana and I was quite physically dominant over everyone else.
Three games where I didn't try very hard wasn't really good for the team - we played against each other. My defense coordinator took me out of the game. I was like what's going on?” He said if you don't play hard I won't play you. From that point on, if I didn't do my best in every game, he would take me out.
I hated him at the time - Coach Roseman - but he's a big factor in why I play the way I do. I don't know if he knows that or not. But yes, he was huge for me.
George Karlaftis learns, then it goes on
In football you have to have a goldfish memory. It's something coaches talk about all the time. Goldfish do not have short-term memory. On to the next piece, that's what they always talk about. Next game, next game, next game. because if you then think about the previous game, then it will influence your next game. There's not much you can do about the past, but you can always improve your future by being good in the present.
I remember one from my senior year at Purdue. I got an offside penalty on the first move of the game - I just jumped offside. You know, I thought I saw some that weren'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. But then I had a big tackle for a loss on that drive that saved us. You can either forget it or use it for motivation. I think both work.
Take some time to enjoy your moment
Frank Clark was in several Super Bowls and was very successful in this league. He said hey guys take a moment to really enjoy this. There are many personnel turnovers in the NFL and our group will never be the same again. So enjoy with these guys, it's a lot of fun. Of course, mind 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 experience.
After the championship game, it was crazy. It was a lot of hugs and a lot of celebrations. Felt like a dream like a movie. As if it weren't real. It was amazing. So just after guys like our work is not done yet. You know, like we have another game. let's end it
Follow George Karlaftis on Instagram @georgekarlaftis.