Before George Karlaftis was a four-star defensive end from West Lafayette, Ind., he was a kid growing up in Greece.
Before his freshman year, the Karlaftis family moved to his mother’s hometown of West Lafayette. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound youngster was persuaded by classmates to try his hand in football.
“Adapting to sports isn’t hard for me,” Karlaftis said. “It’s still a learning process. There’s still a learning curve, the language and all that, but it wasn’t too incredibly hard for me.”
After spending his freshman season getting a feel for the game and the defensive end position, Karlaftis showed his immense potential last season by posting 113 tackles, 14 ½ tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 29 QB hurries, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery, while defending two passes.
But it was a steep climb to stardom in Indiana high school football.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know how to get into a stance,” Karlaftis said. “I think I came a long ways. It was kind of confusing, honestly. I had never done anything like that really before. I had to constantly work on it, work on it all the time.
“Just by watching the football game, back then, I’d get a lot out of it. Even the rules and terminology and things like that, that’s how I started learning the game, just by watching a lot, a lot, a lot of games and highlight film. That’s what helped me learn.”
In the coming months, Karlaftis will hone his craft by working with a pair of ex-pros from the state of Indiana.
“During the offseason, I trained with one of my mom’s friends, Chike Okeafor,” Karlaftis said. “He was in the NFL for about 10 years. He went to Purdue. Him and my mom went to high school together and I worked with him in the offseason. I’m going to work with him more. And I think Matt Mitrione, he played at Purdue and for a couple years in the pros, so I’m going to train with them in the summer.
“Matt Mitrione is actually my girlfriend’s uncle. That’s how I know him and Chike graduated with my mom and they’re still friends.”
Indiana, Michigan, Notre Dame, Purdue, SMU, Western Michigan, and Toledo have all offered the promising Greek-import.
Notre Dame has done a good job of building a strong relationship with Karlaftis.
“So far, Notre Dame’s been awesome,” Karlaftis said. “Just, everything about them, I like a lot. The whole environment, good academics, great football program and history, just everything I like about it. There’s not much to dislike from the school. I like everything, personally.”
In particular, Notre Dame’s defensive line coach stands out.
“I think I fit the culture there pretty well,” Karlaftis said. “Me and coach (Mike) Elston have a pretty good relationship. We talk twice, three times a week. Coach Elston visited a few weeks ago for my track practice and they’ve visited my school a couple times and I get mail constantly from Notre Dame. It’s a good relationship overall with them.”
Karlaftis looks forward to his upcoming visit to South Bend to get a first-hand look at playing under Elston.
“I’m going to Irish Invasion just to work with coach Elston, just to see what it’s like to be coached by such a good coach, obviously,” Karlaftis said. “I want to see how he coaches people and all that stuff.”
Several strong programs also have their eye on Karlaftis, who will make some national visits this summer. He expects to receive a few more offers.
“Penn State, Alabama, and Michigan have given me a lot of attention so far,” Karlaftis said. “I think they’re all going to pull the trigger soon. Other schools, like Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Stanford, a lot. Schools that are really good academically, like Stanford and Northwestern, and good football schools also, have been paying me a lot of attention.
“This summer, I’m going to try to visit Ohio State, Penn State is a maybe, Alabama, and maybe Michigan.”
Karlaftis will also take in his father’s alma mater, Miami.
“I’m interested in them,” Karlaftis said. “I’m going to go to a camp down there. I got invited to a camp, so I’m going to go check it out.”
With much more development to come in his overall game and recruitment, Karlaftis isn’t closing in on a commitment just yet.
“I think it’s too early in the process to tell,” Karlaftis said. “I’d like to take more visits this summer and in the next school year. I’ll probably make my commitment sometime in the spring of the next year.”
Karlaftis values the family feel he’s received while learning the game of football in the West Lafayette area.
He feels the Notre Dame football community has a similar vibe, which could bode well for the Irish.
“I have a pretty strong relationship with my head coach, so that was good,” Karlaftis said. “(My teammates) helped me along at first. They tried to teach me a lot of stuff because they knew I had a lot of potential. They tried to help me in any way, shape, or form they could. And the community here just tries to help anyway they can, really. That’s why I think I’d fit with Notre Dame. It’s such a family environment. That’s how it is here in West Lafayette.”
Typically, the Irish have to reach great distances to attract elite defensive ends while battling strong programs more local to the prospect.
With Karlaftis, Notre Dame may have found their long, explosive defensive end of the next cycle, in their own backyard.