WEST LAFAYETTE — At this point, the only thing Purdue freshman defensive end George Karlaftis hasn’t shown so far in fall camp is dance moves.
Karlaftis recorded four sacks during 11-on-11 drills in pads at Purdue’s open practice Thursday. One included a strip of the quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Karlaftis let out a scream when he got to the quarterback during some plays.
“I’m not really big into celebrations,” Karlaftis said.
But developing a sack dance, according to some teammates and coaches, needs more polish.
“He asked me about that, and I told him I think we need to work on that,” Purdue defensive line/special teams coach Kevin Wolthausen said.
Other than that, Karlaftis has displayed the pass-rushing skills that made him one of the top recruits in Indiana coming out of high school. His addition could help a Purdue defense that put moderate pressure on the quarterback last season. The Boilermakers finished tied for sixth with Nebraska in sacks in the Big Ten with 25.
“(We) can just get more sacks, just more pressure on the QB this year,” Purdue defensive end Derrick Barnes said. “Not saying the guys last year couldn’t get it done. It’s just that a lot of things need to be improved, and he’s bringing that to the table.”
Barnes, who is making the transition from linebacker to defensive end, said Karlaftis has helped him with how to use his hands and pass-rush moves.
“He’s really good with his hands,” Barnes said.
Karlaftis comes from football bloodlines. His father, Matt Karlaftis, was a walk-on javelin thrower for the University of Miami track team who later walked on to play football for the Hurricanes in the early 1990s. At 6-4 and 280 pounds, Matt Karlaftis held his own while practicing with NFL-bound players Warren Sapp, Darrin Smith and Michael Barrow on UM’s 1991 national title team. But after a head injury ended Matt Karlaftis’ college football career, he forbade George and his other two sons from playing football.
The family settled in Athens, Greece, where Matt was a professor and George was a member of the national water polo team. A family tragedy then changed the course of George’s life. Matt Karlaftis died of a massive heart attack at 44 in June 2014. George’s mother, Amy Karlaftis, moved the family back to her native West Lafayette after Matt’s death.
Initially, George followed his late father’s wishes. But after some prodding from friends, Karlaftis decided to go out for the football team at West Lafayette High.
“My buddies seemed to like it, so I just joined it to be part of the group,” Karlaftis said.
Karlaftis has wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks since, recording 41 sacks in a storied high school career. The transition to college has been smooth so far. Karlaftis enrolled early at Purdue in January and has worked with the first-team defense throughout fall camp.
“That was probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” Karlaftis said. “I knew going into (fall) camp how the speed of the game was. I knew how my opponents would be in terms of size, in terms of athletic ability and strength. It was really good, and I felt like I was way ahead of everyone else.”
Wolthausen said Karlaftis has earned first-team reps based on his performance and maturity.
“He walked on campus in January with a plan, and he’s stuck with that plan,” Wolthausen said. “Our guys in the weight room have done a great job with him. He studies tape all the time. He’s further along in his development based on the fact that he’s worked that hard.”
Karlaftis still has plenty to work on, but he feels confident he’ll be able to contribute to a Purdue defense that was inconsistent throughout the 2018 season. He’s also glad of his decision to stay close to home and play for a school where his late father earned a doctorate in philosophy.
“I realized this is going to be the best place for me,” Karlaftis said. “It’s been true so far. I’m glad with my decision.”
EXTRA POINTS: Freshman wide receiver T.J. Sheffield scored an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown during 11-on-11 drills in Thursday’s practice. … Cornerbacks Dedric Mackey and Tyler Hamilton had interceptions. … Defensive tackle Anthony Watts said he slimmed down to prepare for his uniform number change from 44 last season to 8 this season. “To wear single digits, you have to be good,” Watts said. Watts cut out fast food and pork from his diet during the offseason. “Just straight chicken breast, steak, beef, lean meats,” he said. … Purdue plans to hold its first full intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, which will be closed to the media and public.