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Sacrifice to Super Bowl: George Karlaftis’ inspiring journey through the eyes of his mom

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WISH) — George Karlaftis’ mom never thought her son would be playing in the Super Bowl, let alone starting in it as a rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Who does?” Amy Weida Karlaftis said when asked if she saw this day coming.

George Karlaftis’ story is unlike most. The Chiefs’ rookie edge rusher was born in Greece. He’s half Greek, half American. His parents, Matthew and Amy, met at Purdue University before settling down on the Greek Isles. Growing up, Karlaftis excelled at water polo and track — a normal life in Greece — until tragedy struck. His dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack when George was just 13.

“From that moment on, our lives just changed in an instant,” Weida Karlaftis said.

She brought her four kids back home, to West Lafayette, Indiana, in search of support.

“I think George took the majority of the pain on his shoulders, whether that’s what he should have done or not,” Weida Karlaftis said. “When you lose your father, Greek custom is you become the man of the house. Well, at 13, we all know, it’s not very possible to become the man of the house, but he took that true to heart and tried to do his best to be there for me, be there for his siblings, which he still does to this day. He had to grow up way too fast and become mature like overnight.”

It took some convincing to get Karlaftis to even consider playing football. His father had a serious head injury while playing for the University of Miami in college. However, once Karlaftis got out on this field, it was clear, there was something special about him.

“There was one down where he just immediately went over and ran and got the quarterback, and then looked over on the sidelines and asked, ‘What do I do now?’” Weida Karlaftis laughed. “He had no idea what to do.”

That changed. Football quickly became Karlaftis’ whole focus.

“I’ll never forget, I think one day, I was putting laundry away, and there was this note in his underwear drawer, and it had like, ‘My Goals,’ and it had like, ‘Get a girlfriend in high school. Be All Hoosier Conference in high school. Go to the Nike Opening.’ He had lists of things that he wanted to accomplish, and then after every year, he would check those off,” Weida Karlaftis said.

All American. Check. State champion for West Lafayette. Check. Starting defensive end at Purdue. Check. First round NFL draft pick. Check.

“He was so ecstatic about everything. Just the smile on his face, it was just unbelievable,” Weida Karlaftis said, remembering the moment her son was picked 30th overall by the Chiefs in the 2022 Draft. “It was just surreal. You know, coming … thinking about all the decisions you had to make, everything he had to go through, and like, ‘Okay, that was the right decision.’”

Not even a year later, she gets to watch her son play in Super Bowl LVII.

“I’m going to try to be on my best behavior, sit in my seat and enjoy it and watch the game, but I’ll be nervous. I’m not going to lie.”

An entire Karlaftis crowd will be in Glendale Sunday, with one notable exception — Dad.

“I think he thinks about it all the time. I think when he gets a sack, he looks up, and… that drives him for sure,” Weida Karlaftis said.

What would Dad think of his son playing in the Super Bowl?

“He wouldn’t believe it. He would be flabbergasted that this is George’s story, but he’s so much a part of it in the fact that his mannerisms are there. There are so many things about George that are his dad. So I feel like deep down he is a part of it.”

The next goal to check off? Hold the Lombardi Trophy.