Freshman defensive end George Karlaftis exploded onto the scene on Aug. 30 when he sacked Nevada’s quarterback in the first quarter of his first game as a collegiate athlete.
The All-State, 4-star recruit from West Lafayette High School practically grew up in Purdue’s backyard, and did not hesitate to make waves once he got here.
“What’s great about him is that he doesn’t quit,” fifth-year linebacker Ben Holt said. “He’s a freshman, so he’s still got things to learn, but he’s developing. He’s getting better and better every week.”
Karlaftis finished with four tackles against Nevada and didn’t slow down from there. Nicknamed “Big George” by his team as well as some media members, Karlaftis uses his 6-foot-4-inch frame and his fast hand techniques to rip past offensive lines and wreak havoc on backfields.
“I haven’t felt too physically overpowered this season other than a couple plays here and there,” Karlaftis said. “But the technique that I’ve got makes up for it every now and then.”
While Karlaftis has been doing just fine for himself in terms of numbers, he’s looking to be physically stronger moving forward, and has set a goal to gain 10 more pounds of muscle mass for next season.
“Going into the next two games and next year, I’m trying to be physically dominant over the opponent, not just trying to be equal,” Karlaftis said.
Making at least four tackles in each of his first five games, Karlaftis is averaging just under five tackles a game, and has recorded six sacks thus far.
That sack number is the highest of any freshman in the nation.
“That’s a cool statistic,” Karlaftis said. “I’m still gonna do the same thing every day: come here, go to work, and go out and play 100%.”
Hard work has been the name of the game for Karlaftis this year, something that has caught the eyes of many of his teammates.
“He’s developing as a leader,” said Holt, who went on to say that many of the other freshman have looked up to Karlaftis in weeks.
“I think people look up to me just to a certain degree, especially since I’m playing a lot,” Karlaftis said. “I think I have more of a voice in the locker room.”
That voice became a necessity to the Boilermakers early in the season. After senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal and fifth-year linebacker Markus Bailey were injured, leadership roles opened up, and were almost immediately filled by Karlaftis and others.
“I never really expected to be a leader,” Karlaftis said. “I’ll try to be more of a leader going into these next four games.”