INDIANAPOLIS — Before answering questions Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium for the 2021 Big Ten Football Media Days, George Karlaftis was up at 4:45 a.m.
The Purdue defensive end was in the Kozuch Football Performance Complex in West Lafayette performing single-leg squats with plenty of weight across his shoulders.
Karlaftis' 2020 season was cut short due to injury and COVID-19. In what ended up being a six-game season for Purdue, the rising junior only started and played in three matchups.
But that made him hungry. Karlaftis said he's excited to return to the football field with a chip on his shoulder this fall.
"He's done great things for us from day one and I think he can go out there this year and really prove just how great he can be," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. "He's one of our hardest workers on the team. He takes everything extremely seriously and puts in the effort each and every day, well beyond what most guys do."
In 2019, during his freshman season with the Boilermakers, Karlaftis tallied 54 tackles, 17 for loss and 7.5 sacks while starting all 12 games. He was named a first-team Associated Press Freshman All-American and a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
Despite limited time on the field last year, Karlaftis was still recognized as a second-team All-Big Ten honoree. In three games, he led Purdue with two sacks and recorded four tackles.
Despite all the accolades, Karlaftis is constantly trying to better himself as a player. He had to watch as the Boilermakers compiled a 2-4 record last season while finishing last in the Big Ten in sacks.
With Karlaftis on the field, he may have been able to change the outcome of one of the three losses Purdue suffered by one score or less. He said the team wants to win, and that's why he's working so hard this offseason.
"He lives in the building trying to improve and get better, getting his game to an elite level," Brohm said. "He wants to study the best defensive ends in the NFL and college. He wants to work on his strength, flexibility and speed at all times, and he’s feeling healthy."
Purdue's defensive philosophy is attacking the football. It's the style of defense Karlaftis likes to play. Being aggressive, rushing the passer and making game-changing plays is something he's familiar with.
Brohm said the team needs to do a better job moving their defensive star to multiple spots, providing him an opportunity to impact the game. Karlaftis said something is in the works.
“I’m willing to do anything that helps our team win games," he said. "I think if I produce and I do what Coach Brohm wants me to do, I think we have a good chance of winning."
Purdue is emphasizing finishing football games in 2021. Brohm said the best teams in the Big Ten West know how to finish those close matchups, whether it's Northwestern, Wisconsin or Iowa.
The Boilermakers are looking to improve in order to stay competitive with those programs. And with a full schedule in front of them this fall, there are plenty of opportunities to do it.
"It’s our whole defense. It’s our whole team, and that includes our coaches too," Karlaftis said. "We want to win, and that’s why we’re working so hard in the offseason.”
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